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Barn Owls in New Mexico
Barn owl 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.
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.