In May of 2012, four young Barn Owls were released in an attempt to re-establish a population of birds that are all but gone from eastern Missouri. This was done with the help and cooperation of three parties. The World Bird Sanctuary of Valley Park, Mo. raised the young owls from captive breeding pairs and brought them, three females and one male, to the farm of Rachel Kohl in rural Vandalia. Here I had prepared the barn loft for receiving and holding the owls for one week for habituation and feeding prior to their release. Once released the birds were on their own and I didn’t see any of them for over a year. There were two potential sightings that gave me hope that some of them had survived.
I had installed a nest box in a machine shed on the farm, more as a gesture of hope rather than as a conviction of success. The summer and fall of 2012 was, as you all know, quite harsh, overly hot, and extremely dry. This in itself reduced my hopes of any of the birds surviving. After all, these were captive raised birds that had their food provided, then suddenly had to rely on instinct and hunting skills for survival in a new and, to them, strange environment.
In June of this year I surprised a bird, and myself, as I entered the shed harboring the nest box. The head of a female owl popped up over the edge of the box and looked at me in a rather surprised manner. I’m sure I looked just as surprised to her. Looking around I spotted a male perched off to the side on one of the rafters, regarding me as the intruder I was.
A picture taken in the nest box that evening, as per the instructions of the Sanctuary, revealed two eggs. Another picture a month later showed three eggs and one newly hatched ball of downy fluff. A picture on the first of August showed four robust balls of fluff. The new parents were doing their job quite well.
On August 14, Jeff Meshach, the director of the Sanctuary, came to the farm and we checked and banded the young owls. This had to be done prior to their leaving the nest, which should happen in about three weeks. Hopes are that some of these young birds, along with their parents, will stay in the area and help propagate the population. Since a high percentage of the owl’s diet is rodents, their presence is quite beneficial.
The odds of success for this project were quite low. However, this pair of barn owls has given us hope that their instinct and adaptability may prove stronger than the odds.
Anyone interested in putting up a barn owl nest box can get a set of plans, and further information on the species, at; http://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/outdoor-recreation/woodworking/build-bar-owl-nest-box Further information on the World Bird Sanctuary can be found at; hhp://www.worldbirdsanctuary.org/