Thursday, January 15, 2009

Barn Owl Valentine Beauties

Barn owls are found throughout the United States and in many other parts of the world. They look quite different from other owls because they have a heart-shaped face and no ear tufts. They usually have some freckles and have soft white and brown coloring. They also have quite a screech!
Our local elementary school is building a school garden. They will be installing a barn owl box to attract their own resident owls. Barn owls are great for rodent control. They eat lots of mice and gophers. Other than installing the nesting box, the only upkeep is cleaning out the box once a year. Having natural predators is so much better than using poisons to get rid of rodents on your property. One family of owls can easily eat more than 3,000 rodents a year, basically for free!

Backyard Barn Owls is a website created by a couple in California that basically fell in love with their resident barn owls. Be sure to check out the video clips they have on their site.
Another incredible cool fact is that the owls eat all of their prey, fur, bones and all! They can not digest all of it however, so they also produce owl pellets which look like big fur balls. These pellets are regurgitated and they fall in the nest, or sometimes on the ground. Here is a lovely video from the London Zoo. Their barn owl Willow is quite the charmer and you can watch him eat some mice.

Owl pellets may not be pretty to look at, but they can give people interested in owls a good opportunity to see just what an owl eats. One group of scientists studied the owl pellets from the nest of one pair of barn owls. They examined 200 pellets and they found 406 mice skulls, 20 rat skulls and 20 shrew skulls!
There is a virtual owl pellet dissector you can try. You can also buy sterilized owl pellets to dissect at home. You only want to handle pellets that are properly sterilized, so don't pick up any that you may find on the ground.
If you are lucky enough to be able to dissect a pellet, there will probably be several rodent skeletons in each pellet. It is fun to count all the different bones and estimate the number of rodents in each pellet. Those barn owls are great hunters! Did you know they are completely silent when they fly? They have specially designed feathers that are soft enough to not make a sound. This comes in very handy when they are swooping down on their prey. They are also extremely graceful when they fly.
If you are interested, there are several owl cam sites you can visit. As with all of nature's creatures, sometimes the barn owl/owlets becomes prey for another predator. But checking in on an owl family is a wonderful experience in general. Please read the information on the web cam sites to see if viewing their web cams is for you.