STAFF at the RSPCA West Hatch Wildlife Centre are fattening up 28 baby tawny owls taken in by the public.

The nestling and fledglings are being fed chicks and mice ahead of being released this summer.

They were discovered across the South-West over the past month – orphaned, grounded in a barn, disturbed from their nest by a forestry worker, beside power lines or caught by a cat.

Wildlife centre supervisor Paul Oaten said: “It’s the time of year when we traditionally get more young owls in but this year we have seen a huge number of young tawny owls.

“We don’t know why we’ve had so many in over such a short space of time. It could be that the high winds we had a short while ago blew some down from the branches, or it might just be a coincidence.

“The young are prone to being brought in by well-meaning members of the public because when they are about 25 days old they leave the nest and start to move around in the tree so are liable to fall from branches.

“However they are sometimes able to climb back up to the nest or the parents will also feed them while they are on the ground.”

Mr Oaten added: “Many fledglings discovered by members of the public are mistakenly thought to be injured or abandoned and subsequently moved from their natural habitat.

“Initially we would advise people to watch them from a distance to see if the parents come back to feed them – normally from dusk through to dawn – or if the owlets make their way back up to the nest themselves.”