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Barn Owls in North Carolina
In addition to having its own populations of barn owls, North Carolina is an extremely important state for barn owls dispersing from the north. It is the first state after the high mountains that northern birds reach after traversing the mountain forests with dramatic flights and large expenditures of energy. Our satellite tracking study showed that a high percentage of young barn owls in the northeast fly south over the Allegheny Mountains, often flying as much as two hundred miles over four nights to cross onto the lower elevations of the Carolinas.
After the heavily forested mountains that afford poor hunting, North Carolina provides good habitat for birds that may need to replenish their energy with prey. All seven birds from our study that flew south crossed into North Carolina. The same is likely true for those many barn owls that fly over migration points such as Cape May, New Jersey. Some of these birds likely overwinter in the state.
North Carolina Barn Owl Populations
North Carolina once had excellent populations of resident barn owls and good populations remain in certain areas. But human development, a decline in the number of farms and old barns, and the switch from hay and cattle to soy and corn has taken away habitat for barn owls. Today, the highest concentrations of barn owls are likely along the coastal region. A second area of high concentration is in the western-center of the state, where hay and cattle still predominate. Eastern counties that support high wheat production and large areas of salt-water marsh also harbor good populations. The only region where barn owls would be expected to be scarce would be the mountainous counties in the far western portion.
Since barn owls are very secretive and no comprehensive surveys have been done, the accompanying range map may underestimate populations of barn owls overall, however it provides a good indicator of relative abundance within the state.
Conservation Efforts by the New Hope Audubon Society
In 2012, the New Hope Audubon Society began erecting nest boxes in what is known as the Triangle Area, in particular, Chatham, Orange, and Durham Counties. They have dubbed their efforts The Piedmont Barn Owl Initiative and they encourage residents to install nest boxes in these counties as well as Granville, Person, Guilford, and Randolph counties. They will actually donate excellent nest boxes to residents who own good habitat in their target counties of Chatham, Orange, and Durham. Contact them for more information.