New Hampshire Barn Owls

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.

 

Nevada Barn Owls

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.

Montana Barn Owls

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)

Mississippi Barn Owls

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

Minnesota Barn Owls

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.

Michigan Barn Owls

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.

Massachusetts Barn Owls

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

Maryland Barn Owls

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.

 

Maine Barn Owls

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

Georgia Barn Owls

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.

North Dakota Barn Owls

Barn Owls in North Dakota

Barn-Owl-8869Barn Owls are cited as uncommon in North Dakota. States to the south, such as Utah, Wyoming, and South Dakota, are frequently referred to as the “northern limit of the barn owl’s range” in the central United States, however barn owls don’t read the literature and are surprising in their penchant for expanding their range, mainly due to the wide dispersals in random directions that the newly fledged young make in the fall. So, birds from South Dakota and other states make their way into North Dakota each autumn and, in years of mild winters, can make it through to spring, find a mate, and breed successfully.

In one recent year, there were 25 barn owl sightings in the state, and several active nests. Since these birds are highly secretive and active almost exclusively at night, there are likely many more barn owls than are seen.

Severe winters, especially those with heavy snowfall, set North Dakota barn owl populations back, but then the birds rebound in years that are mild.

N.D. grasslands provide excellent habitat for barn owls

N.D. grasslands provide excellent habitat for barn owls

Barn Owl Habitat in North Dakota

The extensive grasslands of the state provide excellent habitat and, as in South Dakota, the birds likely dig their own burrows in the soft substrate of river banks and dunes due to a scarcity of nesting cavities. Good sites in the state for installation of nest boxes would be natural grasslands, wetlands, and fields of hay, wheat, and rye.

South Dakota Barn Owls

Barn Owls in South Dakota

Known barn owl nest sites are scattered and are mostly found in the southern half.  Although documented in far western counties adjacent to Wyoming, most nests have been found in natural cavities in banks of the Missouri River’s reservoirs and tributaries that run through the center of the state. In fact, good populations have been found raising young in cavities dug into the sides of bluffs lining the Missouri River near Pierre. Another area where barn owls dig their own burrows is directly in the ground in the soft substrate of the Sand Hills in the south central portion of the state.

South Dakota is near the northern edge of the barn owl’s range in the central United States.  Highly susceptible to periods of deep snow, the owls likely expand their range and population in years of mild winters, then get knocked back during harsh winters.

Sightings during winter months show that, despite the harsh weatheriStock_000020901530Medium, at least some adult barn owls attempt to overwinter in the state. It is likely that most, if not all, fledglings do not stay, but disperse predominantly southward in the fall.

Crops and Barn Owls in South Dakota

South Dakota is the third largest producer of hay and rye in the nation, both of which provide excellent habitat for barn owls, but the fact that most of the state’s barn owls are found breeding in self-dug burrows in riverbanks only testifies to the scarcity of natural cavities available. Nest boxes in such crops could well attract breeding pairs. Voles, one of the barn owl’s preferred prey, are particularly prevalent in hay and rye and can cause serious damage.

Reporting Barn Owl Sightings in South Dakota

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks asks residents to report barn owl sightings to the South Dakota Natural Heritage Program and encourages residents who believe their farm has the potential to support barn owls to erect barn owl nest boxes. They can be reached at 605.223.7700.