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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 March 2007, 12:26 GMT
Rangers play cupid to rare owls
Tawny owl chicks
Numbers of tawny owls have declined
Wildlife rangers in Cumbria are playing cupid in an effort to increase numbers of rare tawny owls.

More than 50 nesting boxes are being restored at Grizedale Forest, in preparation for the start of the owls' breeding season.

Surveys of Grizedale's tawny owl population have shown a drop in numbers in recent years.

The Forestry Commission said its rangers want to give the birds the best chance of boosting their numbers.

In the UK there are about 20,000 pairs of tawny owls, but national trends have indicated a decline in the species.

Breeding conditions

Commission ranger Iain Yoxall said: "Tawny owls are very territorial, spending their entire life in their home range and males and females can bond for life.

"For this to continue we need to ensure the birds are given the best breeding conditions possible this spring."

The boxes are sited at various locations in more than 4,900 acres (2,000 hectares) of Cumbria's largest forest, to offer the tawny owls a choice of retreats.

The specially-designed boxes were installed in the forest canopy five years ago by the Forestry Commission to make up for a lack of natural breeding sites.

Rangers will continue to monitor the boxes regularly to look for signs of eggs.

The female tawny owl usually lays between two and four eggs in early April.

Tawny owls are the biggest common owl in the UK, with a body length of 15ins (38cm) and a wingspan of 34-41 ins (95-105cm).

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