Articles about the various state barn owl populations with discussions on conservation and use in agriculture.

Texas Barn Owls

The Barn Owl in Texas

Texas Barn Owls

iStock_000020901530MediumBarn owl populations in Texas are excellent and the state is perfect for attracting barn owl families to private properties and establishing nest box programs in agriculture. Barn owls in Texas have been known to nest in trees, cliffs, caves, riverbanks, church steeples, chimneys, barn lofts, hay stacks, deer blinds, and nest boxes.

Barn owls are year-round residents in the state, breeding most commonly February through June, however they have been known to nest in every month of the year. During the winter, they often roost in junipers where they are protected from wind and cold.

They consume voles, pocket gophers, marsh rice rats, cotton rats, Norwegian rats, and mice in such large numbers that they are excellent for significantly reducing numbers of these destructive rodents when attracted to nest boxes.

Distribution of Barn Owls in Texas

Dark blue = excellent populations; Light blue = good to fair; Gray = rare to absent

Dark blue = excellent populations; Light blue = good to fair; Gray = rare to absent

Barn owls are common throughout most of the state except for the forested eastern counties and the high, dry mountains of the Trans Pecos region in the far west. Almost everywhere else this large white-faced, golden-winged owl abounds due to the wide range of agriculture and the prevalence of wild grasslands. As the range map shows, high populations exist in the marsh region along the coast, the sugar cane region of Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy Counties in the southern tip of the state, and three major vineyard areas in the panhandle, the north-central edge, and the center of the Edwards plateau.

Texas Agriculture and Barn Owls

Wheat grown across the upper third of the state, sugar cane in the southernmost three counties, rice along the gulf coast, and dairy and cattle farms in the eastern half and panhandle all foster populations of barn owls. Although cotton is not good for barn owl numbers, they are still seen in cotton country.

Texas Wine Country and Barn Owls

Texas has a long history of viticulture, going back to when Spanish missionaries grew BARN_OWL_VINEYARD_842grapes for sacramental wine in the 16th century. Today, Texas is a major grape-growing state, second only to California.

The eight Texas Wine Growing Regions produce a wide array of world class wines. These include the Bell Mountain and Fredericksburg Regions in Gillespie County, the Escondido Region in Pecos County, the Mesilla Valley Region near El Paso, the Texoma Region in the northeast, the Texas Davis Mountains Region in Jeff Davis County, the Texas Hill Country Region located on the Edwards Plateau, and the Texas High Plains Region in the panhandle. All of these regions have unique climates that produce excellent wines.

Using Barn Owls for Natural Rodent Control in Texas

Adult barn owl emerging from nest boxAs in California, Texas vineyards attract large numbers of voles and pocket gophers and these areas have great potential for establishing nest box programs designed for natural rodent control. Quick and high occupancy should be expected in such regions, resulting in less need for trapping and poisoning, both of which are more expensive than using owls. It will not be long before Texas vintners begin to use barn owls to the same degree that California vintners do today. Texas is a perfect state to institute such programs.

But vineyards are not the only places in Texas that harbor dense populations of barn owls. Sugar cane, grown in the three southernmost counties is rife with cotton rats, and barn owls there are always on the lookout for suitable places to nest. The same is true with rice, grown in the moist eastern counties. Large quantities of rice are consumed by marsh rice rats, a favorite prey of barn owls. In areas like these, barn owls cannot find enough nesting sites fast enough and both of these agricultures would benefit immensely from sophisticated barn owl nest box programs. The dairy and cattle farms common throughout the state are also great places for nest boxes, as are the wheat fields of the panhandle.

The Barn Owl Box Company

If you are interested in creating a nest box program in Texas, contact us at the Barn Owl Box Company for any information you might need. We can offer substantial discounts for quantity orders. Look to our Products page for more info on the various nest boxes we manufacture.

California: Land of the Barn Owl

California Barn Owls

While great stretches of the United States, from New York to Iowa, have seen a decline in barn owls since the 1950’s, the state of California maintains surprisingly robust populations of this beautiful white-faced, golden winged owl. In fact, in a state with a wide variety of common raptors, the barn owl may very well be its most common avian predator. iStock_000020901530MediumThough not seen as readily as many hawks due to its nocturnal habits, barn owls nest in large numbers throughout much of the state. They inhabit old barns, outbuildings, silos, bridge girders, holes in cliffs, and even aviation hangars. The author has even seen breeding pairs inhabiting holes in large trees along a busy street in heavily populated downtown Davis. Waitresses in the restaurants there often observe the owls swooping down on rodents that had been attracted to food that humans had dropped earlier in the courtyards and shopping areas that day. This may be the first description of barn owls going to restaurants for their meals! One of the reasons for the abundance of these owls in California is the abundance of wide open spaces in much of the state, much of it natural grasslands. On top of that, much of these grasslands have been converted to irrigated agricultural fields where rodent populations increase significantly, only making the land more agreeable to this voracious rodent predator.

Barn Owls in Vineyards and Orchards

BARN_OWL_VINEYARD_842Recognizing the value of having winged rodent killers on their property, California farmers have led the nation in utilizing barn owls as integral parts to their integrated pest management programs. Growers of grapes, cherries, plums, almonds, and walnuts have been using barn owls for decades now. Literally thousands of nest boxes have been erected in the state and this effort has helped allow barn owls to flourish in the landscape. Their nest box of choice is one that mounts to a metal pole or wooden post. Here is a link for more information on our Barn Owl Box Pole Model.

California Barn Owl Box Programs

The Pole Model Barn Owl Box made by the Barn Owl Box Company of molded plastic

The Pole Model Barn Owl Box made by the Barn Owl Box Company of molded plastic

In California, it is not unusual to put a barn owl box up one day, and find barn owls in it the next. Farmers with large nest box programs typically have eighty to one-hundred percent occupation rates. In a research project designed to determine best methods of creating a nest box program, the author attracted 18 breeding pairs to a single 100 acre vineyard in 2012. These 36 adults fledged 66 healthy young for a total of 102 birds hunting the vineyard by mid-summer. This population on one hundred acres was more barn owls than biologists in Pennsylvania believe exist in the entire state! Such dense populations can take a significant number of rodents and effectively reduce damage to crops and annoyance to farm operations. And the use of barn owls for natural rodent control is growing. Increasingly, farmers are sophisticating their nest box programs by erected larger numbers of nest boxes to ensure that the barn owls can harvest significant numbers of rodents. But farmers are not the only ones interested in having these beautiful owls around: large numbers of property owners are also erecting owl houses around their homes. (Barn owls are aptly named since they do not mind living around human activity.)

Common Rodent Pests in California

Pocket gopher mounds

Pocket gopher mounds

California happens to have dense populations of rodents as well as any California resident will tell you. Mounds, trails, and runs dot the landscape. Different species of rodents dominate different areas, mainly due to moisture and soil types. Two of these species are the most damaging to crops, the pocket gopher and the vole. Whereas vineyards in the Lodi region harbor a majority of pocket gophers, vineyards in Napa and Sonoma are often dominated by voles. Sometimes these two species thrive on the same land.  Both the pocket gopher and vole cause damage to vines, fruit and nut trees, irrigation systems, cover crops, and the integrity of the soil. So the use of barn owls has become a rodent control method of choice for many farmers and property owners.

Barn Owl Distribution in California

The barn owl is common throughout the state except for forested areas and very high elevations which they avoid. The deserts of the southern parts of the state do harbor barn owls, but not in the great numbers that exist in the fertile agricultural regions, wetlands, and grasslands. Even people in the suburbs of large cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego have successfully attracted these large owls.

More Information about Installing Barn Owl Boxes

If you are interested in putting up a barn owl box, make sure you visit our blog post on Best Methods of Installation. For any further questions, email us at info@barnowlbox.com.