Wildlife News from Coldwater Farm

Coldwater Farm Wildlife

Located on the Agua Fria River in central Arizona, Coldwater Farm is a tiny, 20 acre, refuge for wildlife. Despite being in the center of the Town of Dewey-Humboldt, the Farm is an ideal wildlife habitat. It has abundant surface water supplies and patches of dense vegetation.  The Agua Fria River flows above ground through the farm, and there are three large ponds. Willow thickets and a nice grove of tall cottonwood trees fill the river’s flood plain.

Mule Deer Visits

1-IMG_2203Last July, I wrote about two fawns that visited my back yard three days after they were born (see the post here).  Mule Deer became regular visitors last winter.  They are particularly pleased with the black sunflower seeds the birds miss.

The fawns just came again, and this time another pair of twins joined them. The photo shows one of them. I think the kid looks good for four months.

Barn Owl Box

Yesterday I finished setting up a nest box for the Barn Owls that live here. I’ve know the owls were here for about 10 years now. Last winter, wind blew down the best roosting tree, and the owls have lived in less protective trees. That’s when I decided to put up a nest box.

Barn Owls are unique in many ways. They tolerate humans, and in return for permission to sleep in barns and other buildings, they control the local mouse population. Wise farmers use Barn Owls, not mousetraps. Read the two earlier posts about the Coldwater Farm Barn Owls here, and the windstorm disaster here.

1-IMG_2241The nest box is about 12 feet above the ground.  My telescoping pipe plan would have put it at 16 feet, but the wind happened to be gusting to 30 MPH, and was creating too strong a sway.  Don’t want the owls to get seasick (or the pole to bend).  I bought the box from the Barn Owl Box company.  The box is white, intended to be installed in full sun, but I chose a shady spot and decided to paint the shell flat green.

The box is visible from my back door.  If I pay attention in the evenings, I hope to see owls coming and going now and then.

Other Coldwater Farm Wildlife News

1-DSCN0729Quail are trying to make a permanent home here.  They began stopping by three years ago, but the flock didn’t began sticking around until last winter.

The annual return of wild ducks to the ponds is going well.  Mallards, Ring Necks, and American Wigeon so far.  I started throwing out a little corn when I take this old dog down for his daily swim.

1-IMG_2237-001A hawk has stayed around the house for two months now.  This week he/she dropped onto the lawn and began eating grasshoppers.  We have a good late supply this year.  I guess they are easier to catch than the songbirds and gophers that the other hawks choose.  The hawk is about 22 inches.  If you recognize the species, please let me know.

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.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl Near the Agua Fria River

1-IMG_3088

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.

1-P1000076Barn 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.

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