Barn Owl Near the Agua Fria River
A few days ago, I brushed by the spruce tree beside the house and a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) flapped out. It perched in a nearby Cottonwood tree and watched nervously while I took photographs. I have known for years that there was a Barn Owl living nearby. Seven years ago I found a brown and white Barn Owl feather lying in the front yard. Since then I’ve seen silhouettes in trees and sailing silently across the yard. Two years ago a second feather turned up.
Barn Owls are the most widely distributed of all owl species. They are only absent from Antarctica and the coldest and hottest places on other continents. They live on small rodents, and never take anything as large as a house cat or dog. Barn Owls range from 10″ to 18″ in height. The one in the picture is close to 18″. Barn Owls can live for 25 years, but because of natural predators they rarely live more than two. If you have a Barn Owl living nearby, you have probably heard its call. It’s a shree scream that’s nothing like the hoots of the Great Horned Owls or the toots of the Northern Pygmy Owls that are often heard in the Agua Fria River Basin. Click here for a Barn Owl recording made by Doug Van Gausig near Prescott, AZ on the northwestern border of the Basin. The recording is on the Owl Pages website listed in the References.
Barn Owls hunt at dusk and during the night. Though they have excellent nighttime vision, their hearing is so good they can find prey by sound alone. This lets them detect and capture rodents beneath snow, grass, and brush. A single Barn Owl will catch one rodent every night. One rodent. Not much, but in a year’s time, the owl and the other carnivores that regularly pass through my yard could easily eat 1,000 mice, voles, and gophers. Are there any mice left? YES. My two cats try to bring one in the house two or three times every week.
Visit the Owl Box for a series of Ustream camcorder videos of owl activities around a backyard nest box.
Barn Owls are Beneficial
People are mouse magnets. Our crops, lawns, and gardens produce more food for rodents than surrounding natural vegetation. In the Agua Fria River Basin and other dry regions, lawns are like tiny oases, and houses are like inverted canyons with walls that provide shade and narrow strips of moist soil and vegetation where rainwater collects. Without owls and other mouse predators, our gardens would have to be walled fortresses, and our houses would be besieged in winter by hoards of wild mice looking for a warm bed.
Barn Owls are among the most beneficial predators a farmer can attract. A single Barn Owl family will consume up to 3,000 rodents per year. Go to Barn Owl Headquarters to learn how to attract Barn Owls to your neighborhood.
Barn Owl Conservation
Over the past half century, Barn Owls have declined because of increasing levels of toxic chemical pesticides in the air, water, and tissues of their prey. Some people have quit using pesticides because they are so harmful for bats, birds, amphibians, fish, mammals, and humans. But despite the danger, heavy pesticide use continues in most yards and farms. After pesticides, domestic house cats are the greatest threat to the Barn Owl. At least four cats regularly hunt around my house. Too bad, because the owl has plenty of natural predators. Owls can live for 25 years, but outside zoos, Barn Owls rarely survive more than two years. The one I see here may be 10 years old. As humans increase, Barn Owls are fading away, and are near extinction in some places (World Owl Trust, Dear Kitty., Doward 2013). They are listed as an endangered species in seven Midwestern U. S. states.
Barn Owl References
Barn Owl Headquarters: Instructions for attracting Barn Owls.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barn_Owl/id/ac
Doward, Jamie. 2013. Battle to save barn owl after freak weather kills thousands. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/dec/14/barn-owls-threatened-freak-weather
Konig, C., J-H. Becking, F. Weick. 1999. Owls: A guide to the owls of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, CN. 462 p.
The Owl Pages: http://www.owlpages.com/owls.php?genus=Tyto&species=alba.