-submitted by Mick Hayden
During the summer of 2013 I was greatly encouraged that our initial attempt at re-establishing barn owls in the surrounding area was bearing fruit. Four young owls were born in a nest box on the Rachel Kohl farm southeast of Vandalia. Jeff Meshach, the director of the World Bird Sanctuary, and I were able to band the youngsters before they fledged. The bands are lightweight aluminum circles with specific identification numbers that are placed on the bird’s leg providing information should that bird be captured or found dead.
If we were pleased with last year’s success, we are ecstatic with what has happened in 2014. This year the nest box on the Kohl farm has produced six young, healthy owlets. Since they nested relatively early, a second nesting is not out of the question. These young owls were banded in June and have not all left the nest yet. A surprise bonus was the discovery of a second nest on the Tony Dameron farm. It too had six young, which is about the average size in an area of good habitat. We banded these birds last week and all appeared healthy and well fed.
The greatest percentage of a barn owl’s diet consists of rodents. It takes a lot of mice to raise six young owls to the point of independence. Owls have a unique trait. When they capture and eat their prey, the indigestible parts, think hair and bones, are encapsulated and later regurgitated in the form of a pellet. These pellets give insight into the species diet. Whenever I have taken these pellets apart, the vast majority have contained at least one rodent skull. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how many mice are captured and eaten over a year’s time, especially if young are present. That alone makes them a valuable asset to have around, to say nothing about the importance of species diversity. Let’s hope these magnificent mouse traps can maintain their toe-hold and prosper in this area.
While these birds were probably never a common sight, their numbers have dwindled over recent times. The reasons are many, but they are proving themselves capable of a comeback with a small amount of help, and that help has to come from us.
If you are interested in putting up a barn owl box, simple construction plans are available from the Missouri Department of Conservation at mdc.mo.gov. Once on the website do a search for “Barn Owl nest box.” If you would like further information on the World Bird Sanctuary, go to www.worldbirdsanctuary.org.