Barn owls don't hoot like barred or great-horned owls. They scream and hiss. So two years ago, Sam was a bit edgy about loud, eerie screams emanating from pitch-dark nighttime skies. (Listen at www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barn_Owl/sounds.) When he finally saw the source, though, he recognized the owls. And he was excited.
Two years crawled by with no further sign of the owls. Then early this spring, Sam noticed activity--and heard the screams. While he protected the owls with secrecy, he felt understandably compelled to explain the midnight screams to neighbors, who in turn joined the protection plan.
Because barn owls are highly territorial, Sam provided privacy, fenced the area to keep out predators like raccoons and cats, and only occasionally peered inside. "No matter how quietly I approached," he recalls, "they were always looking directly at me when I reached the door."
Barn owls, like most owls, depend on their keen sense of hearing to find voles and mice. To feed a family, they need vast territories of pasture or hayfield. In fact, depending on habitat quality, tagged birds have claimed 750-1,800 acres as home.
Those nests are built by the female, larger and showier, more reddish and more spotted than her male counterpart. Inside the nest box, she collects her own regurgitated pellets, using her feet to shred and arrange the debris into a cup. Usually she lays four to seven eggs and incubates them for six weeks, depending on the male to bring her food. From fuzz to adult plumage takes about another 10 weeks, and adults continue to feed offspring three to five weeks after fledging.
While barn owls usually mate for life, and while barn owls tend to reuse nest boxes, research is unclear whether or not it's the same pair reusing the nest. Furthermore, youngsters can disperse hundreds of miles to find a mate and choose a territory--maybe at the expense of another less aggressive pair. Understandably, then, Sam is thrilled that two of his seven owls remain, perhaps choosing the nest box as their upcoming winter roost box.
Given suitable habitat, IDNR encourages everyone to mount an appropriately sized nest box for these endangered birds. Construction plans, installation directions, and maintenance instructions are available online at www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3382.htm. And be sure to contact IDNR to report your success.