Barn owls were once very common in much of Oklahoma which harbored huge areas of natural grasslands. They are still particularly abundant in the panhandle of the northwest dominated by short grass prairie, and the southwest with its mix of mesquite grassland and mixed-grass plains. The northeast, west-central, and southern regions have good to fair populations in tallgrass prairie broken up by stretches of oak forest. However, these grasslands have recently begun to be overgrazed by cattle and planted with row crops, reducing barn owl numbers. Barn owls are rare or absent in the far eastern part of the state where oak-hickory forests and oak-pine forests dominate.
With almost three million acres of hay, and over five million head of cattle, Oklahoma provides expansive additional habitat for barn owls in the form of cultivation and pasture as long as overgrazing does not occur. The eastern third of the state is riddled with rivers and large bodies of water, and wetlands are widespread in the southeast and east central parts of the state.
With all of these attributes, Oklahoma still has seen a decline in barn owls in many areas. Researcher Steven Sheffield of the University of Oklahoma
Dark blue = abundant; Light blue = good; Green = poor; Gray = rare to absent
points out that the barn owl was once the most abundant raptor in north-central Oklahoma, but that is no longer true. Since rodents have remained abundant, the issue appears to be lack of nesting sites, a common problem in grasslands. Combine this with the continuing loss of old buildings for nesting, the switch from wooden to metal barns, and the cutting down of dead trees, the barn owl in Oklahoma appears poised to benefit from nest box programs.
The University of Central Oklahoma analyzed 47,000 Barn Owl that revealed Oklahoma barn owls feed primarily on the Hispid Cotton Rat, followed by Deer Mice, and Ord’s Kangaroo Rat. It will breed in cisterns, church steeples, self-dug burrows in river banks, cliffs, caves, tree cavities and of course barn lofts and other outbuildings.
Thanks to biologists Doug Wood and Steven Sheffield for their contributions to the information on barn owls in Oklahoma.
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