Thursday, January 27, 2011

Barnyard Birding

What Ohio bird is more associated with Amish farms than the Barn Owl? Certainly well-tended Purple Martins are more numerous, but nothing says "Amish barn" like the presence of this unusual heart-faced sentential.

........... .......... Athena from Ohio Bird Sanctuary -photo by Hugh Rose.

Looking a bit ethereal in their white-fronted garb, they only blink at us, standing beneath their lofty perch. The under-side is the only view I have ever garnered of a free-flying, or rather, free-to-fly owl. We are careful to be quiet and not to disturb.

Perched high in the top of a silo or barn rafter, these birds pass the day napping and waiting for the cover of night. Barn Owls are denizens of the dark -silent and deadly killers at night. Meadow voles beware, for you will never hear the wing beats of an owl until it is too late.

Why is it that Barns Owls like the Amish? The farming traditions of the Amish have not changed as radically as the practices on a commercial farm. The are plenty of pastures for draft horses and livestock (and mice), corn is shocked in the field overwinter, and few pesticides or herbicides are used. Some might call it a "back to nature" attitude, but in fact, it is more of a "never left" the basic principles of nature. After all, with steady work and an unhurried pace, the Amish know: You can't make good hay with poor grass.

Some farmers are also known to help the Barn Owls a bit by offering nesting boxes. Owls are cavity nesters, and these boxes provide a safe home for their young. Not all Barn Owls remain for the winter, and those that do may find it difficult to find enough food when there is snow on the ground. The resident owl in this barn has its diet ocasionally supplimented with Morning Dove. However, it lives peacably enough with the Rock Pigeons occupying the same space.
Larry Richardson found several of the owls pellets while we visited with the property owner. Owls are unable to digest bone and fur from their prey, which are regurgitated as a pellet. These have a consistency and look not unlike a giant hairball from a cat.

It is always fascinating to tear apart the pellet to see exactly what the bird has been feeding upon. This pellet contained four mouse or vole skulls. That seemed like quite a record to me! I hope it is proof that this Barn Owl is healthy and happy and may produce a box full of owlets in the next few months.
Now THAT would be a sight to see!


  1. I would love to see one of these in the wild. seen them at nature centers . Owls are so fasinating. If Ihad a barn here I would sure make it available for them.