Mortality causes in British Barn Owls Tyto alba, with a discussion of aldrin-dieldrin poisoning



During 1963-89, 627 Barn Owl Tyto alba carcasses were received for autopsy and chemical analysis. Much larger numbers were received per month outside the breeding season than within it, with peaks in autumn (mainly juveniles) and late winter (adults and juveniles).

The main causes of recorded deaths were collisions (mostly with road traffic) and starvation. No great seasonal variation occurred in the main causes of recorded deaths and starved juveniles were reported even in summer. Most starved males weighed less than 240 g, and most starved females less than 250 g.

Another important cause of mortality in eastern arable counties, at least to 1977, was poisoning by organochlorine pesticides, especially aldrin/dieldrin. Levels of HEOD (the metabolized product of aldrin/dieldrin) in the livers of birds that had apparently died of aldrin/ dieldrin poisoning were in the range 6–44 ppm (geometric mean 14 ppm). Pesticide victims formed up to 40% of all dead Barn Owls obtained from some eastern counties during 1963-77. By 1987-89, HEOD levels in Barn Owls in eastern counties had fallen to less than 1.6 ppm, and no deaths from organochlorine poisoning were recorded.

Organochlorine pesticides almost certainly contributed to population decline in eastern England evident in the 1950s and 1960s, and reductions in the use of these chemicals may have allowed a subsequent increase, apparent over the last 10–15 years.