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Meet Olaf, the first barn owl chick to be hatched in a conservation project to reintroduce this species to a Ronda valley
Nature

Meet Olaf, the first barn owl chick to be hatched in a conservation project to reintroduce this species to a Ronda valley

The white village of Alpandeire has launched an initiative to return this nocturnal bird of prey to its natural, local environment from which it disappeared two decades ago

Vanessa Melgar

Alpandeire

Friday, 31 May 2024, 16:40

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The project to reintroduce the barn owl in Alpandeire and along the Genal valley in the Serranía de Ronda is already bearing fruit. The town hall has just reported that a female chick has hatched in the nesting box and now bears the name of Olaf, after the popular animal character in the children's film Frozen.

"It has grown a fair bit and has started to leave the nest, to fly and to hunt for insects such as grasshoppers and small rodents on its own, although it still needs extra food from the keepers," explained a council spokesperson, adding that in the coming weeks the programme will continue by introducing seven more new chicks from parents born and raised in captivity.

Mayor of Alpandeire, María Dolores Bullón, said that the barn owl was a common sight in the area in the past, but it vanished over 20 years ago during which time there have been no sightings whatsoever.

This project will last five years and aims to establish a stable population of barn owls. "It is carried out through the hacking technique, which consists of placing chicks in artificial nests when at an age where the bird has already developed enough to identify with its species but cannot yet fly. In addition, the chicks must be able to stay warm and feed themselves. Sufficient food is provided daily in the nest so that the chicks are not aware of human presence", the town hall explained, adding: "The infant owls become attached to the environment where the fake nest is located as if it were their place of birth. When the time comes, they take their first flight, familiarising themselves with their surroundings and returning to the nest to rest and eat. As the days go by, the food intake is progressively reduced to encourage the bird to hunt for itself until it is completely self-sufficient and needs no additional food. The location of the nests is not made public to avoid human interaction."

Behind this project are the RASTREA association (conservation experts), the Havaral Mycological Group (a local mushroom group in the Genal valley) and the GREFA collective (specialists in native species and restoration of their habitats), with the collaboration of falconry experts (specialists in the hacking method of training young birds of prey to hunt), Alpandeire town hall Alonso Sánchez and MB Decoración.

This initiative could go further as the creation of a permanent barn owl hatchery in the village is being considered, the idea being to send chicks to other areas in Andalucía to become the main players in more conservation campaigns to reintroduce barn owls into the wild.

The disappearance of the barn owl is unfortunately common throughout Spain, mainly due to the huge changes in the agricultural environment, the loss of biodiversity in the countryside, use of poisons to kill the rodents which owls then eat and the loss of nesting sites. It is a nocturnal bird of prey and a legally-protected species.

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