Barn Owls in Rhode Island

Barn owls exist along the coast and on islands off Rhode Island

Barn owls exist along the coast and on islands off Rhode Island

The first barn owl was recorded in Rhode Island in 1938. From then into the 1950’s it became fairly common throughout the coastal lowlands. Since then, in the face of intense development in those same areas, the barn owl has been nearly extirpated on the mainland where only widely scattered records are known. Almost all recent sightings have been within 5 miles of the coast. Two remaining populations exist on Aquidneck and Block Islands where farms still predominate and the owl is known to nest in abandoned buildings and dig its own burrows in sea cliffs.

Block Island and Wildlife Habitat Restoration

With only about 3500 acres of salt marsh and 65,000 acres of wetlands remaining, Rhode Island has lost approximately 35% of its wetlands. Despite ongoing losses of salt marsh, wetlands, and farmland, recent conservation efforts have restored salt marsh habitat on Block Island. Such conservation work is benefitting numerous bird species including the grasshopper sparrow, barn owl, northern harrier, and upland sandpiper. In 1998, the Partners program funded a saltmarsh restoration at Mosquito Beach, the largest producer of mosquitos on Block Island. Channels were dug to allow fish to swim farther into the saltmarsh, drastically reducing the mosquito production. Almost 13,000 acres have been targeted elsewhere as potential sites of freshwater wetlands restoration.

Rhode Island Agriculture

Yellow = good populations Blue = potential random breeding

Yellow = good populations
Blue = potential random breeding

About 60,000 acres of farmland are left in the state. Potatoes are the leading crop. Milk is second. However, Rhode Island is also home to numerous horse farms and, due to the small size of the state and the concentrated rural areas, the density of horses in RI may be one of the highest in the country. Because horses and cattle attract high numbers of rodents (house mice and Norwegian rats mainly), the potential for a win-win situation exists in such enterprises installing barn owl nest boxes. It could widen the distribution of barn owls in the state while helping livestock farmers lower pest damage.

 Barn Owl Conservation in Rhode Island

The barn owl could benefit from nest box programs near wetlands and salt marshes, and in rural areas that support horse, dairy, and hay farms. To report barn owl sightings or an interest in erecting barn owl nest boxes, contact: State Land Conservation and Acquisition Program, 235 Promenade Street, Providence, Rhode Island 02908 (401) 222-2776 x 4307

Barn owls thrive in Louisiana

Barn owls thrive in Louisiana

Barn Owls in Louisiana

Louisiana harbors excellent populations of barn owls. High numbers exist in the southern counties where sugar cane, rice fields, and marshlands dominate, in the northeastern rice growing areas, and along the Mississippi, Red, and Archafalaya river basins. Not so good for barn owls are cotton, soy, and corn, as well as the forests and silviculture in the northwestern third and northern panhandle, however nowhere do these crops dominate so greatly that other beneficial land uses such as hay, wheat, rice, horses and cattle do not help barn owls numbers. So the barn owl is present throughout the state.

 Barn Owls that Disperse from Northern States

From our satellite telemetry study, we know that Louisiana is an important state for young barn owls dispersing southward in the fall from farther north. Most young barn owls in northern states head southward, often traveling hundreds of miles to find wintering territory in the Gulf States. One of our barn owls, released in Pennsylvania, flew over the Alleghenies, through the Carolinas, then headed west to spend the winter along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain outside of New Orleans.

Louisiana Agriculture and Barn Owls

Rice fields can attract high barn owl numbers

Rice fields can attract high barn owl numbers

Sugar cane suffers high crop losses to astounding numbers of cotton rats that have a never ending supply of food in the cane; the same is true of rice fields in the NE and SW counties where marsh rice rats are the common pest. Barn owls can be induced to create dense populations in both crops. The only limiting factor to barn owl populations in these areas is the availability of suitable nest sites.

Barn Owl Prey in Louisiana

In a Louisiana coastal marsh, Jemison and Chabreck (1962) found that rice rats made up 97.5% of the prey of Common Barn-Owls. This will also hold true in rice fields. But in sugar cane, studies in Florida have shown cotton rats to dominate prey numbers. Around horse, cattle, and poultry farms, prey will likely be mostly house mice and Norwegian and black rats.

Distribution of Barn owls in Louisiana

Barn owls are most common in the south and northeast of LA

Barn owls are most common in the south and northeast of LA

Barn Owls in Oregon

Oregon has good populations of barn owls

Oregon has good populations of barn owls

Distribution of the barn owl in Oregon is complex due to the presence of varied ecosystems. The Pacific Ocean moderates the coast and provides ample rainfall, and the Cascades Mountain Range that runs down through the western third divides the state. Generally, populations are very good in open areas west of the Cascades, with dairy farms along the coast and a rich agricultural valley that stretches from Portland to Eugene in the south. East of the Cascades, barn owls are found in good numbers in the northern regions where wheat and barley farms thrive. Southward, the remainder of the state holds moderate to low numbers of barn owls in the cattle raising counties. The barn owl is present everywhere except in forested regions and at altitudes higher than 6000 feet.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says: “The Barn owl is a fairly common permanent resident in open country west of the Cascades. East of the Cascades it is more local in its distribution being most common in agricultural areas.”

Voles (meadow mice, genus Microtus) are the most common prey, however in some areas, the pocket gopher may predominate. In one pellet analysis study of 825 pellets, voles comprised 64% of prey items, with deer mice, pocket gophers, shrews, house mice, and small birds comprising the remainder. 

Red = Excellent Orange = Good Yellow = Poor to Fair

Red = Excellent
Orange = Good
Yellow = Poor to Fair

Voles are particularly destructive in agriculture, especially because of their high reproductive rate. Females born today can begin mating within a month. Voles damage roots, consume fruit, and even girdle vines and fruit bearing trees by chewing the bark near the ground.

Barn owls are being used for rodent control by both grape and blueberry growers in Oregon. The apple, pear, plum, and cherry orchards are excellent candidates for barn owl programs.