Sunday, February 22, 2015

Barn Owlets

Barn Owl - Photographs by Karsen Bell
We have an 100 year old barn at Bull Mills which is longing for a barn owl.  We put up an barn owl nest box some years back, but discovered that "build it and they will come" doesn't always work.

While at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center recently, I met Karsen Bell, a 15 year old naturalist who shared his fantastic barn owl pictures with me.  I asked him to share his discovery with you in his own words.
Owlet in the barn nest - Karsen Bell
"In the late summer of 2014, while I was at my grandparents, I went into a barn that had been damaged by fire.  I heard noises and went to investigate with my flashlight.  I came upon a Barn Owl with four owlets. I had my camera with me since I never know when I’ll have an opportunity to take a picture. I gently approached the owlets, and began taking pictures."

Owlet posing for a closeup -  Karsen Bell
They found the nest when Karsen and his father went inside the barn and started cleaning out debris. The two adults flew silently out of the barn, leaving the owlets in the box for their photo op above.  The nest was in a barn loft. A fire had made a hole in the roof that the owls used to fly into and out of the loft. After the adult owls flew out, he took the owlet picture above, and they left to avoid disturbing them.

One of the adults flew into the trees at the edge of the field as the other landed on the ground. A mockingbird was bothering the owl on the ground and distracting it, which is why Karsen was able to get so close. Both owls made hissing sounds and then the owl on the ground flew into the trees.

Barn owl on the ground - "Where is that %^$ mockingbird? - Karsen Bell describes barn owls in these words:
"Ghostly pale and strictly nocturnal, Barn Owls are silent predators of the night world. Lanky, with a whitish face, chest, and belly, and buffy upperparts, this owl roosts in hidden, quiet places during the day. By night, they hunt on buoyant wingbeats in open fields and meadows. You can find them by listening for their eerie, raspy calls, quite unlike the hoots of other owls. Despite a worldwide distribution, Barn Owls are declining in parts of their range due to habitat loss."
The momma or the papa? - Karsen Bell
Barn owls are one of the most widely spread bird species, ranging throughout much of the Americas as well as portions of Europe, Australia and Southern Africa.  They are found in large open areas where they can hunt at night for small rodents.  Their populations are declining in the northern states, partially due to loss of nesting sites such as old farm buildings and hollow trees as well as urbanization taking over open fields.  If you have access to habitat and a suitable structure, consider putting up a barn owl nest box using these MDC instructions.

Barn Owl populations in the US -
PBS just released Nature's Owl Power, a one hour look at the amazing owls, staring Luna and Lily, a pair of barn owls that are followed from birth.  The 58 minute video is available online at this PBS link.  If you haven't got that much time, a little of their story is here, however you have to watch the whole video to understand the whole story of Owl Power.

Thanks to Karsen and his aunt for sending the pictures and story.  I hope to have more from him in the future.  If you know a young Missouri naturalist with a story to tell, send it to me.  They are our future.

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