Pennsylvania, U.S.A. - The barn owl may be the most widely distributed owl in the world, but, in Pennsylvania, populations are decreasing.
''The barn owl has been declining rapidly since 1989,'' said Kevin Wenner,
Wildlife Diversity Biologist for the northeast region of the state.
Wenner recently discussed a Barn Owl Conservation Initiative program to a small
group of interested landowners at Montour Preserve, near Washingtonville.
"The initiative conducts barn owl studies, compiles information and addresses
habitat issues," he said. "We want to see where the owls are and provide
landowners with information on the services they can provide."
Barn owls are one species of special concern in the Keystone State. Identified
by their long, heart-shaped face, resembling a monkey, they are quite unusual in
appearance. They differ from other owls with their small, dark eyes and an
almost pure-white breast.
"They are the only owl that doesn't hoot," Wenner said. "They make an eerie
screaming hissing sound." In fact, it is this owl that oftentimes is recorded on
"Their pest control is also remarkable," Wenner said. "In one breeding season, a
brood can consume 3,000 rodents."
Their decline is thought to be a result of changing farming practices. Because
of the modern clean farming operations, there is little cover for meadow vole
populations, their primary food source.
"There's a saying that habitat isn't everything, it's the only thing," Wenner
said. "The barn owl needs pastures and grasslands for feeding. Soybean fields do
nothing to support wildlife. Once the beans are harvested, the fields are bare."
What has helped barn owl populations in Northumberland, Columbia and Montour
Counties is the introduction of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
There has been about 20,000 acres enrolled in the program in the last five
years. This is an ideal situation for encouraging barn owls to nest here.
Barn owls are attracted to barn silos, but, said Wenner, "tops of silos were
never created to support nests."
Instead, the Barn Owl Conservation Initiative emphasizes not only habitat
management, but the installation of nesting boxes atop silos or inside barns
with a hole cut to the outside of the barn for easy entrance. In the past, these
owls used hollow tree cavities of the silver maple, American sycamore and white
oak. However, predation was usually high from raccoons and opossums.
There's a farm in Northumberland County which is known to be the home of a nest
of barn owls. The group attending Wenner's seminar were invited to see the
owlets up close for banding. Most had never seen a barn owl in the wild.
Approaching the entrance to the barn with caution, each one had opportunity to
peek inside the bottom of the empty silo. In the furthest corner were five
"I estimate them to be about a month old," said Wayne Laubscher, of Lock Haven,
who is permitted to band owls in Pennsylvania.
"One thing about the owls is that they start developing inside the egg as soon
as it is laid," he said.
As a result, none of the little owls were the same age and size. The female lays
one egg every two to three days, and depending on the clutch size, hatching of
all eggs can take up to two weeks. While she is incubating her eggs, it's of
utmost importance the nest not be disturbed. Abandonment may result.
"The information printed on the narrow band will later be recorded into a data
base, and then we can keep tabs on them," Laubscher said.
Barn owls have a very short life span. While the average is only two to four
years, most of the owls survive one breeding season. Not surprisingly, the owls
can breed within their first year. And when a brood matures early in the season,
another clutch will probably be laid.
With the new barn owl initiative, it is hoped that more owls will benefit from
nesting boxes. In fact, there are plans to install nesting boxes on Montour
Preserve and surrounding areas.
For more information on the Barn Owl Conservation Initiative, or to reveal
locations of barn owls, contact Kevin Wenner of the northeast region at (570)
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On 2008-03-26, Elizebeth from New York wrote: "I have realized that Barn Owls are dissapearing. At night I have heard hissing and screeching sounds. Now there is just silence. I feel really guilty that us humans are only helping to make them endangered when the Barn Owls have done nothing to us. I will pray and hope that I will hear the hissing sound of Barn Owls again! It's not just one person's concerns. -Elizebeth"
On 2008-03-26, Betty from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma wrote: "WOW. I can't believe that some of us humans are letting this amazing owl just die right before our eyes. I would like to see one face to face before my last breaths on Earth. We should all convince the government to allow more space for the endangered Barn Owl. I hope their situation gets better! BeTtY^_^"
On 2008-07-25, natasha from bethany , okla wrote: "Myself and my little brother spotted a Barn Owl or a Monkey Face owl (sometimes its called) in our back yard. We were not able to get a pic of the owl but I did get the owl on video. As We watched it up in the tree we noticed the owl had his eyes fixed on watching my little brother. It was so cool. "
from three forks mt wrote: "I had know cool that there was so much interesting stuff about barn owls.The most thing that I thought was interesting is that a barn owl did not make the same sound as other owls."
On 2009-02-24, melinda from new brunswick wrote: "I was just wondering if anyone knew about how many of these beautiful creatures were left among us.I am doing a project on them in my science class,and i'm not able to find it anywhere.I do know they are endangered and have been lessening in numbers for sometime"
On 2010-05-18, Victoria De Nume wrote: "I love owls, and I am saddend greatly at the thought that their population is dwindling. "