Barn Owls in New Mexico

Barn owBarn-Owl-Box-1l distribution in New Mexico is defined by altitude—the mountains exclude barn owls– but excellent populations exist in the eastern third with over one million acres of farmland, the southwestern corner with lots of agriculture, and a central corridor of farmland formed by the mid-central Arizona New Mexico Plateau, extending from southern Sandoval County southward. San Juan County in the far northwestern corner also provides prime habitat where the southernmost portion of the Colorado Plateau extends into the state. Crops grown are melons, pecans, grapes, wheat, tomatoes, and other vegetables.

Exc. populations (dark blue) exist in the agricultural valleys; Fair populations (light blue) in drier, higher elevations

Exc. populations (dark blue) exist in the agricultural valleys; Fair populations (light blue) in drier, higher elevations; Rare in the mountains

The farmlands of New Mexico are excellent areas for the installation of nest boxes for the purpose of using barn owls as contributors to integrated pest management programs. Prey includes troublesome voles and pocket gophers, as well as shrews and deer mice.

Perhaps the best concentrations exist on the High Plains that cover the eastern third of the state. Researchers have discovered a heavy dependency of barn owls on nesting in abandoned buildings, evidence that manmade structures may be bolstering populations, and also suggesting that as these buildings disappear, the barn owl may decline. However barn owls also nest under railroad bridges, in culverts, cisterns, and often dig their own burrows in the soft banks of arroyos.

 

Barn Owls of New York

As shown by the range map, barn owls are more common in the southern half of the state, and most common near the southern coast. The barn owl’s best populations occur at Kennedy Airport, Staten Island, and the north shore of Long Island around Oyster Bay. Other known breeding has occurred in the Finger Lakes region, Hudson Valley, Genesee Valley, Wayne and Monroe counties along Lake Ontario, and the lowlands of Lake Erie.

Good populations clustered in the very south, scattered elsewhere

Good populations clustered in the very south, scattered elsewhere. Map based on Natural Heritage analysis of habitat and known locations.

A comparison of the latest two New York Breeding Bird Atlases show the number of blocks in which probable or confirmed breeding was recorded declined from 64 in 1988 to 28 in 2005 (out of a total of 126 Breeding Bird Atlas blocks). One thing to keep in mind however is the high number of heavy snowfalls that occurred between the first and second set of surveys which may have affected the outcome in 2005.

However, farmland is decreasing statewide, partly from reforestation and partly from development, and the type of farming has moved from hay and cattle to row crops such as soy (which is not good barn owl habitat).

The installation of nest boxes in New York farmland has met with good success and more nest box programs appear to be a good conservation approach.

A trip through southern and south-central NY in 2016 revealed a decrease in apple orchards, hay, and small farms. Over hundreds of miles of driving, not a single barn owl was seen dead on the roads, which would indicate that barn owls are very scarce in those regions. Nonetheless, plenty of good habitat remains, and so indeed do large trees and old barns. It may be that the barn owl populations in mid-state could rebound through being populated by young owls dispersing from the coastal regions as long as nesting sites were made available.

Barn Owls in New Hampshire

With 81% of its land covered in forest and severe winters, the barn owl is essentially non existent in NH

With 81% of its land covered in forest and severe winters, the barn owl is essentially non existent in New Hampshire

As the second most forested state in the nation, with forest covering 81% of the land area, and with routinely severe winters, the barn owl is essentially non-existent in New Hampshire. As testimony to its tenacity in expanding its territory, and despite these very adverse conditions, an actual breeding record exists from the town of Hollis in 1977, and they may occasionally be seen in southeastern New Hampshire where the climate is a bit milder.

Other species of owls do well in the state however, with four that breed regularly here, including the great horned owl, barred owl, screech owl, and saw-whet owl.

 

Barn Owls in Nevada

Barn owl populations are excellent in Nevada

Barn owl populations are excellent in Nevada

The most arid state in the union, Nevada is comprised of four basic eco-regions. The Northern Basin and Range is generally dry, but range land is widespread and irrigated agriculture occurs in eastern basins between the mountains. The Sierra Nevada in the western part of the state is a high mountain range covered in conifers. The Central Basin and Range contains a great deal of grazing land for cattle. The Mojave Basin and Range is the hottest and driest of the four.

Barn owls range throughout the state at elevations below 5000 feet. They are most common in agricultural areas. In the northwestern valleys, where much hay is grown, barn owls live in high concentrations. Here they nest in the huge stacks of hay bales that farmers assemble for curing before shipping. One problem that wildlife officials face is that often the farmers need to move the hay to market before the barn owls have finished fledging. Teams of wildlife rehabbers do a great deal of work every breeding season in raising and releasing young barn owls that were evicted from their haystacks. In the south central region, good populations of barn owls nest in abandoned hard rock mines. Over ten thousand such abandoned mines exist in the state, and barn owls utilize them frequently, usually nesting within fifty feet of the surface. In the northeastern region, barn owls often carve out nesting hollows in riverbanks.

One other area where barn owls concentrate is in the very southern tip of the state where, oddly, vineyards and fruit orchards have been established in the Mojave Desert.

The main prey animals in Nevada are the long-tailed vole, the mountain vole, the kangaroo mouse, and the kangaroo rat.

Barn Owls in Montana

iStock_000020901530MediumBiologist Denver Holt of the Owl Research Institute in Charlo, Montana reports that the first record of nesting in the state was in 1992, a surprisingly recent occurrence. Recently a number of nests have been discovered in the Mission Valley at an elevation of 3000 feet, where fertile soils, pasture, cattle, crops, and a national wildlife refuge contribute to good habitat. Here they nest in natural holes and juniper root systems in the clay cliffs.

The bird is most populous in the Mission Valley that lies within the Mission Mountains, with good possibilities in the Bitter Root Valley, and

Montana barn owls are most common in the western reaches and scattered through the rest of the state

Montana barn owls are most common in the western reaches and scattered through the rest of the state

then scattered in the rest of the state. It may be that other good populations in other parts of the state remain to be discovered, especially in agricultural areas at lower elevations. Although some authorities have cautiously called the barn owl a “rare visitor” to the state, it is clear that the barn owl breeds in the state, with successful breeding pairs in years without heavy snowfalls, and populations nearly wiped out during the worst winters, only to recolonize in subsequent seasons.

The large amounts of pasture, hay, and grasslands provide very adequate hunting, but the northern latitude tends to regulate numbers by severe winters. Undoubtedly the occurrences are scattered, and low in number in most areas. Yet the bird has been recorded year round.

Barn owls are most common in the western valleys and scattered throughout most of the state

Barn owls are most common in the western river and agricultural valleys (Green) and scattered throughout most of the rest of the state (Yellow)

Barn Owls of Mississippi

iStock_000020901530MediumWith a large cattle and hay industry, extensive rice production, numerous poultry farms, and southeastern saltwater marshes, Mississippi possesses excellent barn owl habitat in many areas of the state.

Although the Mississippi State Department of Wildlife has conducted no in-depth studies, and Turcotte and Watts in The Birds of Mississippi (1999) list it as a rare to uncommon resident, interviews of wildlife rehabilitators in north, central, and southern Mississippi reveal the barn owl to be highly common. It ranked as either the most common, or second most common owl brought in (the barred owl and great horned owl being the others).

Ranging throughout the state, most common in NW rice fields, central pastures, and SE marshes

Ranging throughout the state, most common in NW rice fields, central pastures, and SE marshes. Dark blue = excellent; Light blue= Good; Green = fair; F = forest/mixed forest & fields

The barn owl’s most common nesting site in the state is reported by rehabbers to be along the edges of woods, either in deer blinds, or trees (especially native locusts which split to create sizable cavities).

With the entire southern third and the eastern half of the state mostly covered in forests, barn owls are concentrated in areas of agriculture in these portions of the state. The north central counties, with less forest, and more hay and cattle, as well as the eleven-county rice-growing area in the northwest, likely support good populations of barn owls.

Barn Owl Potential in Mississippi Rice Fields

Rice is farmed intensively with few trees left standing and few places for barn owls to nest. But with dense populations of marsh rice rats consuming significant amounts of the harvest, rice farms in the state could well benefit from barn owl nest box programs. Barn owls would easily detect and inhabit nest boxes in these fields that contain so many rodents.

Rice fields can attract high barn owl numbers

Rice fields can attract high barn owl numbers

Barn Owls in Minnesota

Young barn owls chicks

Young barn owls chicks

Rare in the cold and snowy climes of Minnesota, the barn owl is occasionally seen in farmland, mainly in the southern part of the state. However, they have also been seen near Duluth and other northern Minnesota sites. According to the raptor center of the University of Minnesota, there have been less than ten recorded nests in the state.

Barn Owls in Michigan

Barn owls ready to fledge

Barn owls ready to fledge

Listed as endangered in Michigan, the last breeding pair was recorded in 1983. A single barn owl was sighted in 2000, so when a barn owl was found on the floor of a barn in Coopersville in 2012, it was a notable event. Barn owls, which are very secretive, may be a bit more common than suspected, but not much more due to the state’s severe winters and frequent, deep snowfalls. These lightly-feathered, long-legged owls are highly susceptible to periods of deep snow.

Barn Owls in Massachusetts

IMG_8134More populous in the southern end of the state, the highest populations occur on Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and off shore islands, all of which have milder winters than the mainland. Occasional sightings have also been recorded in the Housatonic River Valley in the west and the Connecticut River Valley that runs through the center of the state. With its severe winters, Massachusetts harbors populations that ebb and flow according to the mildness of the seasons, however barn owls have been recorded in Massachusetts since the 1800’s and were first recorded nesting on Martha’s Vineyard in 1928.

The owl is listed as a species of Special Concern in Massachusetts.

Good places for sighting a barn owl in Massachusetts are Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown and Long Point Wildlife Refuge, both on Martha’s Vineyard.

Massachusetts Barn Owl Occurences

Massachusetts Barn Owl Occurences

Barn Owls in Maryland

The far western counties, Garret and Allegany, dominated by forested ridge and valley systems, are quite poor in barn owls, but the Great Valley area,, known as the Hagerstown Valley in Maryland, comprised of Washington and Frederick counties (with the exception of the Blue Ridge Mountains that cut through Frederick) provides excellent habitat due to the presence of hayfields, old silos for nesting, and the virtual absence of row crops such as corn and soy. The eastern shores of Chesapeake Bay contain extensive wetlands that also harbor good populations where many barn owls nest in duck blinds.

Duck blinds in the marshes of Chesapeake  Bay provide nesting sites for barn owls

Duck blinds in the marshes of Chesapeake Bay provide nesting sites for barn owls

Dark Blue = good populations; Light Blue = scattered; Green = poor; Yellow = rare to nonexistent

Dark Blue = good populations; Light Blue = scattered; Green = poor; Yellow = rare to nonexistent

Due to a perceived decline in barn owl numbers in a number of counties, the owl is listed as a bird of critical concern in Maryland.

The Barn Owl Nest Box Project is a cooperative effort between Calvert County Natural Resources Division and Southern Maryland Audubon Society. The goal of the project is to increase Barn Owl numbers in Southern Maryland by attracting them to man-made nesting boxes placed on secluded barns in areas of suitable habitat. Contact Senior Naturalist, Andy Brown at 410-535-5327 or Southern Maryland Audubon Society raptor research committee chair Mike Callahan at 240-765-5192 if you would like to help with the project or if you would like to install nest boxes on your property.

 

Barn Owls in Maine

Barn-Owl-8869As the northernmost state in the U.S., Maine experiences winters that limit the barn owl’s ability to maintain any but the rarest numbers. Mild winters may allow barn owls to survive for a few years, but severe winters marked by deep snow and sub-zero temperatures may wipe out most if not all of the barn owls in the state. Young barn owls dispersing northward may replenish the state’s few breeding pairs in mild years, but nonetheless, there are at best only a handful of barn owls in the state at any given time, making seeing or hearing one of these big white owls with their heart shaped faces a rare event.

In recent years the barn owl has been reported in small numbers only in the southern part of York County, the southernmost county in the state where the weather is milder than the rest of the state and marshlands provide good habitat.

Barn owls are found only in southernmost York County

Blue = known occurrences. Barn owls are found only in southernmost York County

Barn Owls in Georgia

iStock_000020901530MediumBarn owls live in good numbers in the agricultural regions of the northwestern northeastern, and southwestern agricultural regions, as well as along the marshes and riverine systems of the coast. They number fewer in the mainly forested regions of the coastal plain and the belt of forest that runs diagonally through the center of the state, and are rare to non-existent in the mountains of the northeastern corner. (See the range map below.)

Dark blue = Abundant; Light Blue = Common; Green = Uncommon; White = Rare

Dark blue = Abundant; Light Blue = Common; Green = Uncommon; White = Rare

One prey study, conducted in the Piedmont Region (foothills), showed that cotton rats comprised over 60% of prey items, with least shrews and voles coming in second and third. Surprisingly, in a coastal plain site, shrews were the most common prey. It should be expected that along the coast, marsh rice rats are likely the primary prey, and that in many grasslands, the vole is the most prevalent item.

Visits to the coastal region of GA in 2015 and 2016 reveal excellent habitat, but a lack of suitable nesting cavities due to the fact that saw grass marshes support few trees that could supply large enough cavities. Barn owls will often choose to nest in duck blinds, wood duck boxes, and the dead fronds of palm trees when other sites are not available, but these are not as suitable as boxes made specifically for barn owls. They have even been found nesting on the ground in such habitat, but obviously are then very vulnerable to predation.

The numerous corn, cotton, and tobacco farms of the state are poor habitats for barn owls as well as other wildlife, whereas poultry, cattle, hay, pastures, and wetlands provide good to excellent habitat.

Georgia hay farms provide excellent barn owl habitat

Georgia hay farms provide excellent barn owl habitat

There are no specific conservation efforts for the barn owl in Georgia, however the Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI), established in 1999 to bring back large numbers of bobwhite, encourages and advises landowners and farmers on establishing field borders, hedgerows, and grasslands, all of which also benefit barn owl numbers.