By Mick Hayden
The barn owl pair that chose to use the nest box on the Rachel Kohl farm had a banner year. In year’s past when other owls utilized that same box, five was the most raised in a year, with numbers ranging from three to five. This year, when I first checked the box after I was certain there was a nesting pair, I was surprised and pleased to see seven small, white eggs. Although my hopes were high, I knew the odds were against that much success.
Aside from one check to see at what stage the hatching was, the nest was not bothered again until it was time to band the young, which had to be done before they could fly. The band placed on each birds’ leg is simply an identifier that gives biologists a brief tracking history if the bird is found dead. The number on that band goes into a national database. The causes of deaths could be anything from predation, to accidents, to natural causes. Did the bird stay in the area of its birth or did it wander far away? The condition of the remains also allows for a rough estimate of its age.
After about a month, the young were gathered for banding, and we were elated to find all seven had hatched and seemed to be healthy and prospering. I have no idea how many mice and voles it must take to feed seven young and two adults through the nesting season, but apparently those parents were very accomplished hunters.
After banding, I don’t approach the box again until all the birds have left the nest in autumn and it’s time to clean out the box and put in fresh nesting material. This is the moment of truth—if any of the young have died post-banding, there are evident remains of such, either in the box or in the shed. I’m happy to say I found no such evidence and I congratulate those two adult owls on their hardiness and dedication. I look forward to the next nesting cycle and hope for as much success as this year.