First Barn owl spotted on Hampstead Heath since 1946

A rare bird has been spotted on Hampstead Heath for the first time in 77 years. A Barn owl was seen swooping in the north London park on Tuesday – the first sighting of the creature in the area since 1946. 

With stunning white and blonde feathers and an 85cm wingspan, Barn owls are certainly a majestic sight to behold. 

The owl in question was spotted by one keen-eyed regular bird watcher, or ‘birder’, and has also been sighted by others.  

Pete Mantel, a member of the Heath and Hampstead Society’s Heath committee, told Camden New Journal he saw the beautiful bird late on Tuesday night after being tipped off by a friend.

‘It is an important sighting. Barn owl numbers in the UK are currently at around 9,000 pairs, and that is not many,’ he said. ‘Since the end of the Second World War, their numbers have dropped significantly.

Mantel explained that a number of factors had led to the dwindling population of Barn ows in London. He said that development on brownfield sites – land that has been previously built on but is no longer in use – meant that lots of owls had lost space they would usually inhabit, meaning that colonies in parks such as the Heath, Hyde Park and Richmond Park had few options when their offspring were ready to move on.

He added that the owls often get killed by traffic, or are hit by trains, while many young owls don’t make it to adulthood.

‘Sadly, barn owls also have a low survival rate for the young. Around half do not make it past two years. There is a lack of land for them to hunt, and if you get a cold or wet winter it makes survival even harder,’ Mantel said. 

If you want to catch a glimpse of the creature yourself, you might be able to spot it if you head to Cohen’s Fields near Kenwood House. 

Mantel added this part of the Heath was particularly good for owls. ‘They hunt for food in rough grassland and then roost in tree holes,’ he told Camden New Journal.  ‘In this part of the Heath, you can almost forget you are in London. It feels perfect for owls and you may think: why are there not more here?’

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