Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Barns Owls are certainly not common in Ohio, and are officially listed as threatened. I suspect there are many more than we know about, though. They are strictly nocturnal, and only likely to be found when roosting during the daytime, and the roost is likely to be in someone's private farm outbuilding, and such places are not frequented by birders.
Thus, I was delighted to get a recent email, telling me of an owl in residence in the aforementioned Knox County. The homeowners are nice as can be, and were willing to allow me to visit and have look at their owl.
This is a working farm and a working barn, and apparently the owl has become thoroughly accustomed to activity. Twenty feet or so below the owl lurked Peter, Bruce, myself, and the lady of the house, although we spoke in muted whispers. At our feet gamboled several very active kittens, the progeny of a couple of adult barn cats. And there was Tig, a large and rather ferocious appearing "guard dog", who was nosing the kittens about and occasionally letting loose a bark. None of this hubbub caused the owl to as much as flinch, let alone open its eyes.
From my experience, there are basically two types of Barn Owl behavior regarding barn-roosting birds. Some, like this animal, are quite tame and not put off by people. They'll just remain perched high in the rafters or on the hay rail, and quiet observers - or even not so quiet ones - will not cause them apparent concern.
But there are plenty of spooky Barn Owls. These birds do not like intruders, and as soon as someone enters their dwelling they'll promptly catapult out the nearest exit hole and into the wide open outdoors. These are the birds to leave alone. A Barn Owl ensconced in the shadowy rafters of a barn is a safe owl. A Barn Owl flushed from its fortress during the day becomes far more vulnerable to those who would eat or otherwise relentlessly dog the bird. This is an almost strictly nocturnal owl, and forcing one to be exposed to hawks, crows, jays, the watchful eyes of Great Horned Owls and all manner of tormentors, some deadly, some just annoying, is not the thing to do.
The homeowner was very interested in these pellets and their composition, as any right-minded intellectually curious person ought to be. Just today, she texted me a photo of a pellet that she had much more painstakingly dismantled. It contained five (5!) vole and mice skulls! Apparently the owl is flourishing in its Knox County digs, and I hope there are many others in the area.