On the third day of Christmas

my true love sent to me:

…unfortunately, we have no French hens. In fact we don’t even know what French hens are and, try as we might, we can’t find out. The top two theories suggest that they were either fashionable domestic poultry in 1780, when the song was first published, or an allegorical representation of the Holy Trinity.

We do have three non-allegorical species of owls, though, and we can make them French if you prefer: they are chouette effraie, chouette hulotte, and Chevêche d’Athéna, more familiar in English as barn owl, tawny owl and little owl. Will they do?

[1] Barn owl [2] Tawny owl [3] Little owl

Of the three species, two are seen regularly in the reserve. A pair of tawny owls raised two chicks in one of our owl boxes, several winters ago. This winter a pair has been heard hunting in the park and, because tawny owls are very territorial right throughout the year, we have high hopes of another nest early in the spring.

A pair of barn owls visits us each winter and hunts for a week or so in the fields between Church Lane and Lambrok Stream. They roost in the oak tree that planning application 18/10035/OUT proposes to surround with sixty new-built houses, and each year we hope to entice the owls further into the reserve where we have plenty of ancient oaks for nest sites, colonies of field voles to hunt, and where they would be a lot safer than they would be on a modern housing estate.

[4] Tawny owl chicks in the park, photographed by DKG [5] One of a pair of barn owls seen hunting in the park, photographed by DKG.

We have sightings of single little owls hunting in the park but we have never seen a pair or any evidence of a nest. We look after our ancient trees, with all their holes, nooks and crannies, in the hope that declining species such as the little owl will breed here.

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