Barn owls, with their ethereal beauty and silent flight, are a treasure to have around. These natural rodent controllers often find solace in old barns, lofts, and other quiet structures.
Recognizing signs of their presence can be a joy for bird enthusiasts and an essential skill for property owners. In this guide, we’ll explore the subtle (and not-so-subtle) hints that barn owls might be sharing space with you.
- Pellets: One of the most definitive signs is the presence of owl pellets. These are regurgitated clumps of indigestible material, like bones and fur, and can often be found beneath their roosting or hunting perches.
- Feathers: Look for molted feathers, especially the unique heart-shaped facial discs or the speckled white-and-tan primary feathers typical of barn owls.
- Droppings: Whitewash droppings, often splattered on the ground or on walls below their roosting sites, can indicate a barn owl’s presence.
- Distinctive Calls: The eerie, screechy calls of barn owls, particularly during the breeding season, are hard to miss. Listening out at dusk or just before dawn might reward you with their haunting vocalizations.
- Nesting Material: Barn owls may use straw, hay, and even soft feathers to line their nests. Discovering these materials in quiet, sheltered spots might point to a nesting site.
- Footprints: In dusty or muddy areas of barns or lofts, you might spot the imprints of barn owl talons. They have a distinctive zig-zag pattern that can help in identification.
- Direct Sightings: While barn owls are primarily nocturnal, they can sometimes be seen during the day, especially when disturbed or during breeding season when feeding demands are high. A glimpse of their pale form or their ghostly flight can confirm their presence.
Signs of Barn Owl occupation
When trying to determine whether or not Barn Owls have taken up residence in a certain area, there are several signs to look out for. These signs include pellets, droppings, nest and roost debris, feathers, dead adults and owlets, food begging calls, smell, and small mammal remains. By understanding each of these signs, you can better identify the presence of these magnificent birds.
One of the most recognizable signs of Barn Owl occupation is the presence of pellets. Pellets are regurgitated by owls and are composed of hair and bone. These cylindrical masses are often found in the areas where Barn Owls roost or nest. Examining the composition of these pellets can provide valuable insights into the diet and health of the Barn Owls in the area.
Another indicator of Barn Owl presence is their droppings. These droppings can vary in appearance, but they are typically watery and predominantly white or black. By analyzing the color and consistency of these droppings, experts can gain valuable information about the diet and health of the owls.
Nest and roost debris
Barn Owls often leave behind evidence of their presence in the form of nest and roost debris. Nest debris refers to compacted pellets found within their nests, while roost debris refers to a loose collection of pellets in or under a roost. By examining this debris, researchers can determine the size and activity level of the owl population in a certain area.
Feathers from Barn Owls can also serve as a clue to their presence. These feathers can be found in various locations such as buildings, tree cavities, or nest boxes. Locating these feathers can indicate that Barn Owls are frequenting a particular area, possibly using it for roosting or nesting purposes.
Dead adults and owlets
While it may be disheartening to come across dead Barn Owls, especially owlets, their presence can provide valuable insights into past nesting activity. The presence of deceased adults and owlets suggests that Barn Owls have successfully bred and nested in the area before. This information can be used to determine the suitability of the habitat for future nesting attempts.
Food begging calls
Barn Owls communicate using various sounds, and one of these sounds is the food begging call. These calls are relatively quiet and can be heard when owlets are hungry and calling for food from their parents. If you hear these sounds in the vicinity, it is a strong indication that Barn Owls are present and potentially breeding in the area.
Another unique sign of Barn Owl occupation is the characteristic smell associated with their presence. Barn Owls have a distinct ammonia smell that can be detected at nest sites. This smell is often a result of the accumulation of owl droppings and pellets in a concentrated area. If you catch a whiff of this odor, it might be a good idea to investigate further for signs of Barn Owl activity.
Small mammal remains
Barn Owls primarily feed on small mammals such as mice and voles. As a result, they often leave behind small mammal remains near their roosts and nests. These remains can be found in food caches within nest boxes, providing further evidence of Barn Owl presence. By examining these remains, researchers can gain insights into the diet and foraging habits of these magnificent birds.
Encouraging the presence of Barn Owls
If you are interested in attracting and supporting Barn Owls in your local area, there are several steps you can take to encourage their presence.
Barn Owls thrive in areas with rough grassland, as it provides ample hunting grounds for their preferred prey. By allowing your grassland to grow longer and providing suitable habitat for small mammals, you can create an environment that is attractive to Barn Owls.
Providing nesting opportunities for Barn Owls can greatly increase their chances of successfully breeding in your area. Erecting nest boxes in suitable locations, such as trees or buildings, can provide these birds with secure and comfortable nesting sites. Make sure to research the proper design and installation of nest boxes to ensure their effectiveness.
When attempting to attract Barn Owls, it is crucial to avoid using rat poison. This is because Barn Owls primarily feed on small mammals, many of which can be poisoned if they consume prey that has ingested rat poison. By using alternative pest control methods, such as trapping or exclusion, you can help ensure the safety of the Barn Owls and their prey.
Barn Owls are known to occasionally drown in water features such as cattle troughs or garden ponds. To prevent this, it is important to ensure that these water sources have suitable escape routes or are covered to prevent the owls from accidentally falling in and being unable to escape. Taking these precautions can help protect the Barn Owls in your area.