Raptor Identification - Species Portrait:
(Reproduced from Talon
Tales, November 1999 issue)
Article by Marcel Gahbauer
For hunting, barn owls require large areas of grasslands, abandoned fields, or wetland edges. They search these areas nightly for their favoured prey - meadow voles, mice, and shrews. Most barn owls have a large territory; it is not uncommon for them to patrol an area of 40 ha (100 acres).
The barn owl does not build a nest as such, but will often lay its eggs in a bed of its own pellets. Their average clutch is five eggs, and these are typically laid in April, although nesting can occur at any time of year. Young barn owls fledge after 8 to 10 weeks, after which time the female may sometimes lay a second clutch.
Threats to the barn owl include exposure to rodenticides and pesticides, as well as collisions with vehicles and power lines. But the major cause of decline for this species is habitat loss. Not only are the large grasslands they need for hunting disappearing, but natural tree cavities have also become scarce, due both to the widespread removal of dead trees by people, and the proliferation of other cavity nesters such as squirrels and raccoons (which not only are competitors, but also predators of young barn owls). As if that werenít enough, many of the old barns suitable for nesting are being torn down in favour of more modern (and impenetrable) buildings.
Nest boxes can be installed in suitable habitat to provide barn owls with a home. Boxes should be placed out of reach of predators, and with easy access for the owls. Any such effort should be coordinated with an attempt to maintain or expand suitable hunting habitat in the area.
Further reading: Canadian Wildlife (Summer 1999 issue), The Birderís Handbook (Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, 1988)
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