Where have all the hushwings gone?By Adrian Lawson
November 20, 2009
Hushwings is a name rarely used these days to describe the barn owl.
The owl has feathers so soft they make almost no noise in flight – in fact, to be near one flying is almost ethereal.
Sadly the chance of not hearing one fly by is quite rare. There are very few barn owls left and finding them can be quite a challenge. Even in the last few years the population in Reading has taken quite a nose dive. There were probably 10 in the Reading area but some of their favourite places have become unsuitable. The meadows where Green Park is now were once home to a pair, but they moved on when the area was redeveloped. Even though there is a lot of seemingly wild space the owls didn’t like it.
The area near junction 11 of the M4 was another favourite haunt, but the redevelopment of the junction has spoilt all the places they could find food.
There were a pair living in a nest box designed especially for them at Kennet Meadows but some children vandalised the box and threw it in the river. The owls flew off in disgust never to be seen again.
Another pair lived in an old hollow tree but they left for reasons I don’t understand and that left just a couple of birds in the Caversham area – but I rarely went there and sightings were even rarer.
Occasionally, when cycling around the countryside, I would spot one or two but they were just chance encounters.
A while ago a dog walking friend told me she had seen one not far from home in one of the places I mentioned above. I vowed to go back there to see if I could find it.
I finally managed it at the weekend but nothing happened except the sky grew dark and I got cold.
Predictably, just as I set off the owl appeared, flying low in front of the hedgerow and landing on a branch not 30 feet from me and I stood there transfixed until it flew off into the night.