Tag Archive for: barn owls

Barn Owls in Wisconsin

Wisconsin grasslands

Wisconsin grasslands provide excellent barn owl habitat

The barn owl in Wisconsin is rare and listed as endangered. Most breeding records have come from the southern counties where the state Bureau of Endangered Resources has attempted to bolster barn owl populations over the years by installing over one hundred nest boxes and releasing captive bred owls. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in recent years has also installed a number of nest boxes.

Although natural grasslands and wetlands have declined in the state and been replaced by row crops such as soy, there are plenty of pastures and meadows remaining throughout the state. A main limiting factor is the severe winters, particularly the heavy snowfalls that regularly occur, making it difficult if not impossible for barn owls to catch prey beneath the snow. Mild winters allow barn owl populations to grow, but a single heavy snowfall that lasts over a week on the ground can severely set back barn owl numbers.

Nonetheless, barn owls do breed each year in the state and nest box programs have had some success. The range map is from the Natural Heritage Inventory Base in 2012 and shows counties of confirmed nesting. Keep in mind that such records are dependent on field work which is often limited and that barn owls can be very difficult to detect since they are secretive and nocturnal. Chances are that there are more barn owls than found and that other counties may harbor them. Residents in these or neighboring counties who live in good habitat such as grasslands, wetlands, or pasture would be helping conservation efforts by installing nest boxes and contacting their local DNR office when barn owls are seen.

Barn Owl Breed and Release Program in Wisconsin

The state of Wisconsin conducted captive breeding program and released 98 young birds into the wild between 1982 and 1987. This program was discontinued since there was no apparent increase in barn owls in the wild. This is typical of such barn owl breed and release programs – due to dramatic dispersal of young in the fall, high mortality, and low returns to natal areas, barn owls are not a suitable species for breed and release. Habitat enhancement, such as nest box programs, have proven to be far more effective.

Barn Owl Diet and Nesting in Wisconsin

Barn owls in Wisconsin feed mainly on voles (meadow mice) and shrews. They nest in silos, barns, outbuildings, tree cavities, and nest boxes. They breed March through July, laying three to nine eggs, with four or five on average. Researchers believe that most Wisconsin barn owls leave for the winter, but there are records of overwintering as well. It may be the young that disperse in the fall, and the adults that stay as in many other states.

An excellent large paper on the barn owl in general, with Wisconsin as a subset focus: http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/er/publications/reports/pdfs/ER_report037.pdf

Barn Owls in Connecticut

Barn owls are rare in Connecticut

Barn owls are rare in Connecticut

Barn owls have always been uncommon to rare in Connecticut due to the state’s harsh winters. They are principally found along the coast and within the large river valleys of the state. Breeding has been confirmed in coastal areas and near Middletown, 30 miles in from the coast, where there is an active monitoring and nest box program. The already low Connecticut population is declining from habitat loss as reforestation encroaches on grasslands and the numbers of small farms dwindle. Biologist Laura Saucier, who monitors barn owls for the state, says that they typically find less than five occurrences each season and that most nests are within a few miles of the coast. That said, there are always more barn owls than detected, and the fact that Middletown, near the center of the state, hosts barn owls, raises the possibility that others exist in counties not being monitored.

History of the barn owl in Connecticut: The barn owl has always occurred in low numbers in Connecticut due to the state’s northern latitude and deep winter snows which prevent the owls from grabbing their prey beneath the surface. Historic records from the late 1800’s indicate the bird was considered a rare breeder in the state then, with records from coastal areas such as  Stratford, Madison, Stamford, Leesville, and New London County. But there were also inland sites along the Connecticut River such as Portland and East Hartford as well sites further west such as Litchfield and Winsted, where one pair in an abandoned factory produced 6 young in 1892 and 7 eggs in 1893. As low as the population was in the nineteenth century, it is undoubtedly lower today.

Barn owls are known to inhabit only near the coast and inland near Middletown

Barn owls are known to inhabit only near the coast and inland near Middletown (gray areas) in small numbers

Diet and Breeding in Connecticut

Barn owls eat mainly voles and shrews in Connecticut. Breeding occurs April through August.

Installing Barn Owl Nest Boxes in Connecticut

Nest boxes would best be installed within ten miles of the coast, or in the Middletown area where barn owls have been known to breed. Any sightings of barn owls should be reported to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection at 860-424-3000.

Barn Owls in Iowa


Barn owls eat mostly meadow mice (voles) in Iowa

Iowa once had far more barn owls than it does today, though the numbers in Iowa were never very high due to the normally severe winters. The main problem for barn owls is not so much cold as it is deep snow. When a heavy snow remains on the ground for more than a week, many barn owls succumb. Even so, the numbers of barn owls present in the state have declined as good habitat has disappeared.

 Today, Bruce Ehresman, Iowa DNR Wildlife Diversity Program says that the state usually locates around twelve nests per year, so there are probably a number that they do not find. Most nests are found in southern and southwestern Iowa.

Iowa Prairie

Iowa Prairie is good habitat for barn owls

 Iowa has lost 90% of its original 4.5 million acres of wetlands to farm conversion. Prairie has also seen similar losses. But today, Iowans are restoring wetlands and prairie. Farmers are creating 10,000 acres of wetlands under the federal Conservation Reserve Program, and another 91,000 acres are being created by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the federal Wetlands Reserve Program. Prairie too is being restored.

All of this bodes well for the barn owl in Iowa where efforts to help this beautiful bird have been in place since the 1980’s when the state attempted breeding and releasing 400 young owls in good habitat. Biologists placed radio transmitters on 36 released owls in 1985. Twenty-four of the birds perished in the first 60 days, and thirteen of them appeared to have been killed by great horned owls.

Without evidence that the program increased barn owl numbers, the IDNR finally ended the captive breeding program. They shifted the program’s emphasis from stocking birds to placement of secure nesting boxes in areas where owls have been seen. Most of the boxes are placed in old barns surrounded by extensive CRP grasslands.

Old barns near extensive grasslands could be a key to survival of the species in Iowa. State biologists encourage residents to install nest boxes in good habitat and to report any sightings and more interested yet in possible nesting attempts. The IDNR can be reached by calling 515-432-2823.


Barn Owls in West Virginia

The South Branch Valley harbors high numbers of barn owls along the Potomac River

The South Branch Valley harbors high numbers of barn owls along the Potomac River

This small, mountainous state, with its extensive forests, provides intermittent, yet excellent habitat for barn owls in its narrow valleys of pasture and hay that spread like numerous fingers between the hillsides. The saving grace of West Virginia farmland is that the steep hills do not afford the chance to farm intensively; always there are plenty of trees, hedges, and fields gone fallow. In the southern portion of the state, reclaimed strip mines also provide good hunting habitat though nesting sites are scarce. Ironically, these machinery-flattened mountaintops revert to wild grasslands where a number of normally rare species find homes, including Grasshopper, Vesper, and Henslow’s Sparrows.

West Virginia is one of those states where barn owls are declared uncommon due only to a lack of surveys. Compounding the problem, most barn owl habitat is located on remote, privately owned farms and researchers must rely on farmers to report the owls.


West Virginia Division of Natural Resources

Barn owls raise large numbers of young

Barn owls raise large numbers of young

Biologist Richard Bailey of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has seen signs of barn owls throughout the state. He reports that the greatest concentrations of barn owls exist in the eastern half of the state, especially the South Branch Valley (Potomac River), the land surrounding Petersburg in Grant County, and in the Shenandoah Valley that runs through the far eastern panhandle, including Hardy, Mineral, Hampshire, and Morgan Counties. (However, barn owls in the remaining part of the panhandle, Jefferson and Berkeley Counties, are under increasing pressure from development.) He also cites southeastern counties such as Pendleton, Pocahontas, and Greenbrier, and the Ohio River floodplain in the northwestern part of the state as other areas that harbor barn owls in fair numbers. So, in general, good populations exist in the eastern third and the north and west; lower populations are expected in the middle of the state, yet the open valley floors between the mountains still harbor breeding pairs.

Barn Owl Range Map  West Virginia

Barn Owl Range Map
West Virginia

Range Map of Barn Owls in West Virginia

The map shows the abundance of barn owls by county. The orange counties are those with excellent populations due to plenty of open farmland, and numerous farm buildings and silos for nesting. Fair populations live in the yellow areas, and even the gray areas host breeding pairs in the many narrow open valleys between the hills. Even Brooke County at the upper western tip, where barn owls have nested in and around Bethany College for years,  is thought to have a number of this large whitish owl.

West Virginia Barn Owl Breeding Sites and Seasons

Surprisingly, barn owls prosper as high as 3000 feet in the mountain valleys and even more surprising, they have been found breeding anywhere from February to November. So, despite the mountains, barn owls breed here even during winter. Most of the current nesting sites are in hollow trees, silos, barns, abandoned houses, and other outbuildings. Bailey has found piles of pellets four to five feet high in some locations that have obviously been used for decades. Pellet studies show the meadow mouse (vole) to be the predominant prey item, with shrews as the second most important food.

Reporting Barn Owl Sightings

West Virginia biologists are interested in hearing about barn owls in the state. To report sightings, please call the West Virginia Division of Wildlife in Elkins at 304-637-0245 or in Romney at 304-822-3551.



Barn Owls in Delaware

Delaware is a perfect example of how each state seems to have its own dynamic in terms of barn owl populations. Biologist Wayne Lehman, Division

Barn owls most common along the coast

Barn owls most common along Delaware Bay

of Fish and Wildlife, reports that barn owls are found primarily along the coastal salt marshes where their numbers are excellent. He attributes nest boxes to being responsible for a good percentage of successful breeding sites. In the rest of the state, dense human populations, and the relatively sterile environments of soy, corn, and potatoes tend to keep barn owl numbers low.

Plenty of research on barn owls in Delaware has been conducted. Since 1996, Delaware biologists have banded 618 barn owls, including young from 135 nests. In addition, they have captured banded birds from as far away as Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland, and birds banded in Delaware have been captured regularly in New Jersey. So, the population of barn owls moves around dynamically, particularly in the fall and spring.

A companion study to the Delaware Fish and Wildlife is being conducted by the Barn Owl Research Foundation across the Delaware River in New Jersey, underway since 1980.

Delaware's salt marshes hold good populations

Delaware’s salt marshes hold good populations

Despite low owl numbers in the rest of the state, residents who live amid good habitat – hayfields, grasslands, and marsh – would be contributing to the conservation of barn owls by installing nest boxes.

Knowing where barn owls are living is of great interest to researchers. If you see a barn owl in Delaware let Jean Woods know so she can add this data to Delaware’s Breeding Bird Atlas. Woods is the curator of birds for the Delaware Museum of Natural History. Contact her at 658-9111, ext. 314 or via email at jwoods@delmnh.org.

Arkansas Topo Map

Barn Owls most common in the green lower altitudes

Barn Owls in Arkansas

Barn owls breed throughout Arkansas. They are most common in the wet agricultural regions of the Mississippi delta in the eastern third of the state. Arkansas grows more rice than any other state in the nation, primarily in the eastern third. Not only is rice good for ducks, it is also good for barn owls. In rice fields they eat primarily cotton rats and rice marsh rats that cause large scale damage to grain crops.

Good populations also thrive in in the flat fertile farmland of the Arkansas River Valley that lies between the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains in the west-central part of the state, and in the Red River Valley in the southwestern counties. The mountainous regions of Arkansas contain the least numbers. Researcher David Clark is asking people to report known barn owl roosts in mountainous Northwest Arkansas. He can be contacted at (501) 590-9559 or by e-mail at dwclark@ualr.edu.

Karen Rowe, biologist for Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, reports “Barn owls in Arkansas nest in old metal grain bins, buildings with grain driers, combines parked in sheds, deer blinds, you name it.” Eggs are usually laid between February and June.

Analysis of 338 pellets from the Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge in western Arkansas revealed 46.8% cotton rats, 14.2% woodland voles, and 13% marsh rice rats. A smaller sample from eastern Arkansas showed bog lemmings, cotton rats, and voles consumed in that order. However, keep in mind that barn owls will prey upon whatever nocturnal rodent is most prevalent locally.


Post Model Barn Owl Box

Though barn owl numbers are good in many areas, the barn owl is still considered a species of concern here, and residents are encouraged to erect nest boxes to help with their numbers since often the limiting factor to their success is the availability of suitable nesting sites. The rice fields, vineyards, orchards, and row crop farmers of Arkansas could well benefit from nest box programs erected to help reduce rodent pressure on their crops.

Barn Owls in Arizona

Common in the entire state, save the northwestern counties of Cococino, Navajo, and Apache, and northern Gila and Greenlee Counties. The high mountains that run in a sharp arc from northern Cococino County down through Navaho, Apache, and Greenlee Counties roughly divide the rather poor populations of the northeastern third of the state from the remaining areas where barn owl populations are excellent. The mountains themselves are virtually bereft of breeding pairs.

Reported nests of Arizona Barn Owls

Reported nests of Arizona Barn Owls

Biologist Troy McCormick of Arizona Game & Fish who contributed to the Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas says they are common in suburban areas and often nest in palm trees. Although no pellet studies have been done yet, he suspects kangaroo and cotton rats in the deserts, and roof and Norwegian rats in the suburbs. People in suburbs often request boxes because they are forced by ordinance to remove dead palm fronds (where they nest). They also nest underground in abandoned copper, silver, and gold mines, under bridges, in stream and drainage banks, and hay stacks. He would not expect them above 6000 to 7000 feet. However, plenty of the altitudes below that have grassy plains, and barn owls are common in the wheat and vegetable farms of the valleys.

Barn Owl Breeding Season in Arizona

Most of Arizona’s Barn Owls are year-round residents but will make local movements during the winter. The birds are generally on their breeding grounds by late winter, and courtship activities such as chasing flights begin at this time. Egg dates in Arizona range from early February to early May. The earliest Barn Owl nest located during the atlas period contained eggs on 10 April. Atlas data suggest that the peak breeding period statewide is from late April through late May. The latest confirmation was a nest with young found on July 24.


Pole model nest box by the Barn Owl Box Co

They readily use nest boxes where provided, and in Arizona cities and rural communities they will often nest on the dead fronds of untrimmed palms and on the debris collected on branches in tall tamarisks.

Given the good populations being sustained by various natural nesting sites such as cliffs, mines, palms, and tamarisks, attracting barn owls in most of Arizona is easy by installing nest boxes. As our studies have shown, dense populations can also be attracted to areas with high numbers of rodents, especially agricultural regions.

Barn Owls in Alabama

Barn owls raise large numbers of young

Barn owls raise large numbers of young

Barn owl populations are excellent throughout the state. With high hay and cattle production in most counties, and salt-water marshes along the coast, barn owls are afforded excellent habitat. Hay and wheat fields are common, with heavy concentrations in the north and the southeast portions of the state. As open field hunters, barn owls will not be expected in the forested areas, however they will settle in cleared areas within forest. They are present in all 67 counties

Their greatest limiting factor is availability of nesting sites. For this reason they are often discovered by hunters nesting in deer blinds. Unable to find hollow trees or barns, barn owls in Alabama enter the woods and seek out the hunting platforms to lay their eggs.

The Alabama Wildlife Center


The Pole Model from the Barn Owl Box Co.

The Alabama Wildlife Center reports a rush of baby owls each spring during deer hunting season. Hunters are often sympathetic to the young owls, despite the ferocious hissing and bill snapping that startled baby owls emit. Usually the wildlife center attempts to relocate the entire family by installing a nest box near the blind and moving the young in hopes that the adults will continue caring for them in the new location.

The non-profit Alabama Wildlife Center helps rehabilitate and rescue thousands of animals and birds every year. To report abandoned, endangered or injured wildlife, or for help relocating barn owls, the center’s hotline is 205-621-3333. Visit online at http://www.awrc.org.

The barn owl is one of four commonly seen owls in Alabama. The great horned, screech, and barred owls all live in good numbers here. The burrowing owl, more common in Florida, is rarely seen. The snowy owl is a rare accidental, as are the long eared and the short-eared owl.

Attracting Barn Owls in Alabama

Alabama’s robust population of barn owls makes the state an excellent place to install a nest box. The barn owl has been shown to consume large

Marshlands provide excellent habitat

Marshlands provide excellent habitat

numbers of voles (meadow mice) in hay and grain fields, cotton rats in sugar cane, and marsh rice rats in rice fields. Farmers of these crops can benefit greatly through using nest boxes in enough numbers to take out large numbers of rodent pests.