Barn Owl Disaster

Barn Owl Roost Falls

1-P1000076Nine years ago I found a Barn Owl feather lying in the front yard.  Since then I have often seen the owl’s silhouette sitting in trees and sailing silently across the yard.  Four years ago a second feather turned up.  Two years ago, I brushed the spruce tree beside the house and a Barn Owl flapped out.  It perched in a nearby Cottonwood tree and watched nervously while I took the 1-IMG_3088photograph at left.

Last summer a windstorm toppled two of the tall willow trees shading my driveway.  We had seen a Common Barn Owl (Tyto alba) roosting in the thickest tangle of overlapping bra nches between the trees.  It’s been seven months since the trees fell, and I have seen no signs of the owl.

Fallen Trees

About the Barn Owl

Barn OwlBarn Owls are the most widely distributed of all owl species.  They are only absent from Antarctica and the coldest and hottest places elsewhere.  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 at left is 15″ from crown to wing tips.  If you have a Barn Owl living nearby, you have probably heard its “shree” call that’s nothing like the hoots and toots of other common owls.

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. The Barn Owl practices elaborate courting and parenting behavior that involves dancing, singing, nest-building and decorating, and surplus food storage.  I recommend the beautifully detailed account of Barn Owl behavior by Anita Albus (2005) .

Barn Owl Benefits

A single Barn Owl family will consume thousands of rodents every year, making the  owl one of the most beneficial predators a farmer can attract.  Rodent control benefits everyone.  We humans are mouse magnets. Our dwellings are like tiny rodent resorts 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 become toxic or they would become walled fortresses, and our houses would be besieged in winter by hoards of wild mice looking for a warm bed.

Barn Owl Conservation

Over the past half century, Barn Owls have declined.  Belfries and lofts where owls once nested are now mostly screened and closed (Albus 2005).  The leading causes of the owl decline, however, are the  toxic pesticides in the air, water, and tissues of rodents.  Some people recognize the dangers of pesticides, but heavy use continues in most yards and farms.  The pesticides might do a more thorough job than the owls, but when all the mice and owls are gone, we might find that our produce has lost its flavor.

Barn Owls are nearing extinction in some places (World Owl Trust, Dear Kitty, Doward 2013).  Seven U. S. states recognize the owl is endangered, and this status is spreading.  You might be able to help the owls by developing neighborhood support.  If you can convince your neighbors to drop pesticides, it would be worth your effort to attract a Barn Owl family.   Click here to learn how to invite barn owls to your neighborhood.

Barn Owl References

Albus, A.  2005.  On rare birds.  Lyons Press, Guilford, CN.  276 p.

Arizona Bird Conservation.

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.

Wikipedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barn_Owl.

13 thoughts on “Barn Owl Disaster

  1. We have a great horned owl that perches on our roof here in the winter months. We can hear him hootinfg out there late at night and have gone out wth a flashslight. He is quiet large and is silent when he flies.

    That feather is wonderful. i collect bird feathers and find some in the desert when iI walk back there. I’ve had two raven feathers land in my courtyard.

    Large birds like this are impressive.

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    • Great Horned Owls hoot around here in January. I think if one called while perched on our chimney (the roof high point), the sound blast would have us running about with flashlights too! :o).

      Feathers are fascinating. I have sacks of them, but can’t identify most of the species.

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  2. I love owls … it is such a privilege to see one. It is sad that human actions are causing their decline. I can’t imagine what our world will be like if we lose these lovely birds … or any species, for that matter. It’s time to think beyond ourselves and make choices which will protect the planet and ALL her inhabitants. Thank you for this post!

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    • I agree. There is so much to consider. Some steps are obvious, but our leaders do not act because they believe amassing personal fortunes will give them a wonderful future insulated from their environment. I suppose that will be true for a few generations.

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  3. I am very passionate about the barn owls. I moderated a chat room on Ustream for 2 years. Featuring 2 barn owls from San Marcos California. Carlos and Donna put cameras in an owl box for the viewers. We were fortunate to watch bonding, 3 clutches be born and raised and of course the feeding of mice, rabbits and many other rodents. I live here in Dewey and work at the Blue Ridge Market Texaco Station. Do you still see the barn owls?

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    • Hi Chris,
      I haven’t seen any signs of the owl since the trees blew down last summer. I am hopeful that it will find a new roost. I never knew if there was a nest. I would like to have a nest box, but don’t have the time to build one. Perhaps this spring….
      Your experience sounds fascinating. Thank you for telling me about it.
      Garry

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      • Your welcome Garry. I am sure your barn owl is still around. Just less active with the chill. Molly and Mcgee were very interesting. The night-time antics of the barn owls were amazing watching on the cams. We laughed and cried when the little ones were learning to fly and then fledged. The photos that were captured were simply amazing. Songs were written and a book as well. One day your barn owl will come back. I believe they are out there. When March comes around and you hear a “deet deet deet” off in the distance you will know.

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  4. Pingback: Wildlife News from Coldwater Farm | GarryRogers Nature Conservation

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