A CUMBRIAN wildlife centre has seen an influx in numbers of one particular feathered friend.

Knoxwood has been called out to rescue large numbers of barn owls, which are struggling to find prey in the dismal winter weather.

Over the past two months the charity, based near Wigton, has taken in 15 barn owls – some brought from across the north of England.

The centre’s founder, George Scott, said the primary reason has been the way in which the wet weather has curtailed the birds’ usual food supply – small mammals such as voles and mice.

The species is already endangered because of habitat loss.

“With the ground being waterlogged, there is not as much for the barn owls to catch and eat,” said George.

“We started getting them at the beginning of December.

“Of the 15 that have been brought in, we have only lost two or three.

“They’re being brought to us from all over the north and the north-east – from as far afield as Washington in county Durham, and down the coast at Robin Hood’s Bay.”

He continued: “These birds have been starving – getting to the point where they just don’t have enough energy reserves to continue hunting.

“We hang on to them for as long as is necessary, feeding them by hand until they are strong enough to be released.”

The centre has also been looking after a number of kestrels, some injured as they have hunted for food next to busy roads.

In 2007, the barn owl was voted Britain’s favourite farmland bird in an RSPB poll. Historically, the barn was Britain’s most common owl species but experts say that only one farm in 75 has a barn owl nest.

In order to live and breed, a pair of barn owls needs to eat around 5,000 prey items a year. These are mainly field voles, wood mice, and common shrews.

Around 90 per cent of barn owls when examined after death are found to have ingested rat poison.

Having co-existed with man in Britain since prehistoric times, they have relied on barns and farm buildings for nesting and roosting sites.

But with rapid human population growth in the UK, and more people moving into the countryside, many old barns and agricultural buildings that owls have depended on are prime targets for developers.

Thus nowhere near as many roosting sites are available.