Nantucket, Massachusetts, U.S.A. - The high-pitched screech of Nantucket's barn owls is a sound that has
been heard less and less around the island in the past year.
Since the barn owl population peaked in the summer of 2002, when an
estimated 100 owls were spread across the island, two harsh winters have
decimated the predatory bird's numbers. Today local scientists know of
only one nesting pair of barn owls on Nantucket.
"We've been finding dead barn owls across the island," said Dr. Bob
Kennedy, the director of natural science for the Maria Mitchell
Association (MMA). "The population dropped to where I thought they might
be extinct or near extinct (on Nantucket). Happily, we have found one
That pair of barn owls, located in a nesting box on the Polpis Road
property of Ted Godfrey, are the proud parents of four young offspring
that were tagged Monday by Kennedy and a team from the MMA.
The young owls are approximately four to five weeks old and still had
white down feathers on their bodies that had yet to be pushed out by
their regular brown feathers.
The team also took measurements of the four owls before returning them
to the nesting box. The tagging of the birds is part of the MMA's study
of barn owls, an effort to chronicle the population on Nantucket.
Kennedy urges anyone who has barn owls nesting on their property or a
nesting box to call him at 228-1782 so they can be recorded.
"(The study) gives us some idea of how long they live, where they go and
if they leave the island," said Edith Andrews, the MMA ornithologist who
helped band the owls on Godfrey's property. "They're more of a southern
species. (In the winter) they just have such a hard time getting food.
It's very difficult for them to get enough to eat."
As part of the study, the MMA will continue to tag more barn owls as
they are discovered and attempt to record and clean all of the nesting
boxes on the island.
"I think by understanding their population we're going to be able to
help them out," Kennedy said. "A lot of squirrels have taken over the
boxes since they've moved out, so it's a matter of cleaning them out and
making them more acceptable for the owls."
Godfrey, who has two nesting boxes on his property and has constructed
21 boxes around the island, said that he initially got the idea to
create habitat for the owls from his good friend Granger Frost who first
had nesting barn owls on his land in 1987.
"It's fascinating to watch any bird of prey," Godfrey said. "I just
wanted a bird that would eat mice and rats to keep the tic population
down." In Massachusetts, the barn owl is at the northern limit of its
range and it has a difficult time adapting to the frigid conditions of
New England winters, Kennedy said. When snow is on the ground, hunting
for the mice, rats and small rabbits that the barn owls prey upon is
also difficult and many of them die of starvation.
"In the last couple of years they've had a tough time," Frost said. "For
awhile the population was growing rapidly. In one of the barn owl boxes
at my house I have a one way mirror in it so I've been able to watch
them closely without being seen and that's a lot of fun."
The barn owl is considered a species of "special concern" in
Massachusetts, a designation that is one step away from the "threatened"
"Barn owls can hunt in total darkness," Kennedy said. "Their hearing is
so good they can locate an animal by the sounds it makes. They're very
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from india(bangalore) wrote: "ty for this website.for the past few days ive been trying to identify which bird was making such a hissing and snoring sound. i just got a glimpse of its wings and thats it! its pure white, i saw it as it tool flight. i just wanted to know if it was rare in India? pretty cool creature. but the sad part is my mom thinks its evil and is a bad omen and brings bad to the family head. she's asked the security to chase it away from the property.as i am typing this out im glad to hear them as before.(for once im glad about the inefficincy of our security gaurds!). also im glad its around bcoz i havent seen any rat or even the regular bandicoot around.yay!!!"