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Barn Owls

Location: Texas

Camera Host: Anonymous

Find more about Weather in Italy, TX

October 15, 2014

Mom and Dad Roost in Nest Box During Daylight hours

We have not seen the parents snoozing together in the nest box during daylight hours since the start of the year. Could this be a new regular occurrence or is it just too cold outside for their usual daylight roosting spots? 

October 14, 2014

Molting Barn Owls

Did you know that Barn Owls are rather inactive birds? Being predators they gain energy from consuming protein, however in comparison to other predators Barn Owls spend a lot of time roosting and preening. Our Texas Barn Owl parents have been spending slightly less time in the box recently (over the second week of October 2014). When the pair visit they appear to be preening regularly and may be in the process of going through a seasonal molt. Both parents are molting body feathers. In this clip we see Dad, the lighter owl, pull a primary feather. On the floor of the nest box we can see cast feathers scattered amongst the layers of pellets. Primary and secondary feathers in Barn Owls are replaced slowly in order to disturb flight as little as possible, taking roughly 2-3 years. Molts of the primaries tend to start in the middle of the wings moving to the inner and outer primaries. This molting pattern is called 'transilient' and can be uneven between wings. Secondary feathers molt in three groups and are widely spaced when lost simultaneously. The tail molt is more random and much slower than other owl species. It has been noted that a number of observed Barn Owls have been able to maintain some primary feathers for over 3 years. Keeping these feathers for long periods is surprising when one considers what they must experience when the owls are hunting and flying through vegetation. 

October 07, 2014

Texas Barn Owls 2014 Highlights

Over six months viewers followed a family of Barn Owls in Italy, Texas. Five eggs were laid and hatched in May. Unfortunately the two youngest owlets passed away, most likely due to starvation, however the strongly bonded Barn Owl parents raised 3 healthy owlets. All three juveniles left the nest box July 14, but continued to return to roost in the box during the day until the end of August. The parents throughout September and October are roosting in the box over night and continue to bond. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology would like to thank the many people involved in watching, tweeting to @texasbarnowls and helping to protect these enchanting birds. Without the devotion of a community of dedicated people we would not be able to show these birds to the world. A special thank you to everyone who donated to keep the cams running, your support means everything to us. 

October 14, 2014

Molting Barn Owls

Did you know that Barn Owls are rather inactive birds? Being predators they gain energy from consuming protein, however in comparison to other predators Barn Owls spend a lot of time roosting and preening. Our Texas Barn Owl parents have been spending slightly less time in the box recently (over the second week of October 2014). When the pair visit they appear to be preening regularly and may be in the process of going through a seasonal molt. Both parents are molting body feathers. In this clip we see Dad, the lighter owl, pull a primary feather. On the floor of the nest box we can see cast feathers scattered amongst the layers of pellets. Primary and secondary feathers in Barn Owls are replaced slowly in order to disturb flight as little as possible, taking roughly 2-3 years. Molts of the primaries tend to start in the middle of the wings moving to the inner and outer primaries. This molting pattern is called 'transilient' and can be uneven between wings. Secondary feathers molt in three groups and are widely spaced when lost simultaneously. The tail molt is more random and much slower than other owl species. It has been noted that a number of observed Barn Owls have been able to maintain some primary feathers for over 3 years. Keeping these feathers for long periods is surprising when one considers what they must experience when the owls are hunting and flying through vegetation. 

October 07, 2014

Texas Barn Owls 2014 Highlights

Over six months viewers followed a family of Barn Owls in Italy, Texas. Five eggs were laid and hatched in May. Unfortunately the two youngest owlets passed away, most likely due to starvation, however the strongly bonded Barn Owl parents raised 3 healthy owlets. All three juveniles left the nest box July 14, but continued to return to roost in the box during the day until the end of August. The parents throughout September and October are roosting in the box over night and continue to bond. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology would like to thank the many people involved in watching, tweeting to @texasbarnowls and helping to protect these enchanting birds. Without the devotion of a community of dedicated people we would not be able to show these birds to the world. A special thank you to everyone who donated to keep the cams running, your support means everything to us. 

September 26, 2014

Pair Bonding

The Barn Owl parents are now visiting the box nightly, and appear to continue to bond. Allo-preening, staring at each other, bill fencing and snoring and chirruping is all part of the bonding process. Could they be planning on roosting together over the winter and raising another brood together next year? Only time will tell. 

August 14

An Empty Nest

Since the departure of the female parent in the morning the nest box has remained empty for the day. The young are now almost 100 days old (oldest is 96 days old) as of August 14. In a study a first successful prey capture was observed in England at 72 days of age. In this same study the young were last fed by parents in the 12th–13th week. Our Barn Owls are in their 13th week of age. All 3 could have started hunting and may now be hunting without the additional help from their parents. 

August 12

Youngest First to Depart Nest Box

The youngest Barn Owl, some viewers call Screech or Bonnie, has left the nest box during daylight hours. The two oldest owls remain in the box during the day. We were expecting the departure from the nest to be extended; with the fledglings returning to the nest box to roost for several weeks. It has now been a month since the young owls first left the box. Leaving the nest box in the daylight hours means the young may now start to roost elsewhere but still close to the nest box. This may happen for a few more weeks. Fledglings are normally dependent upon the adults for 3--5 weeks after flying. The youngest owl may have started its first real flights now. 

May 29

Prey Deliveries Increase

In comparison to previous nights we note an increase in prey deliveries in the early hours of the morning. The male parent delivers 6 small rodents and 1 sparrow to the female parent to feed the young and also feeds the owlets himself with a further 3 small rodents (00:00, 00:33, 00:43, 01:09, 01:34, 02:37, 03:01, 03:20, 03:44 and 4:57AM). The sparrow is consumed whole by one of the owlets. The female parent delivers 2 prey items; a small rodent at 00:40AM and a rat at 01:39AM. The rat is gradually fed to the owlets throughout the morning, however the second oldest owlet attempts to swallow it whole twice. Around 9AM the female parent begins to feed the deceased fourth owlet to the surviving young. 

Barn Owl

Building

Nest Placement

Barn Owls put their nests in holes in trees, cliff ledges and crevices, caves, burrows in river banks, and in many kinds of human structures, including barn lofts, church steeples, houses, nest boxes, haystacks, and even drive-in movie screens.

Nest Description

The female makes a simple nest of her own regurgitated pellets, shredded with her feet and arranged into a cup. Unlike most birds, owls may use their nest sites for roosting throughout the year. Nest sites are often reused from year to year, often by different owls.

Clutch Size

2-18 eggs

Incubation Period

29-34 days

Nestling Period

50-55 days

Egg Description

Dull white, often dirtied by the nest.

Condition at Hatching

Helpless, covered in white down.

Mammals

Food

Barn Owls eat mostly small mammals, particularly rats, mice, voles, lemmings, and other rodents; also shrews, bats, and rabbits. Most of the prey they eat are active at night, so squirrels and chipmunks are relatively safe from Barn Owls. They occasionally eat birds such as starlings, blackbirds, and meadowlarks. Nesting Barn Owls sometimes store dozens of prey items at the nest site while they are incubating to feed the young once they hatch.

Typical Voice

Barn Owls don’t hoot the way most owls do; instead, they make a long, harsh scream that lasts about 2 seconds. It’s made mostly by the male, who often calls repeatedly from the air. Females give the call infrequently. A softer, more wavering version of this is termed a purring call. Males use it to invite a female to inspect a nest site, and females use it to beg for food from the male. Barn Owls also make a loud, 3-4 second hiss at intruders or predators that disturb the nest.more sounds

See full Species Info at All About Birds

About the Nest

TexasBarnOwl BoxThis Barn Owl box is nestled in the rafters of a large open-air pavilion on a ranch in Texas. Surrounded by grasslands and scrubby forest, the box has been occupied off-and-on by Barn Owls for as long as the landowner can recall. The Cornell Lab previously featured this nest site online from 2005-11, during which time resident owls had 11 nesting attempts, 7 of which successfully fledged at least one nestling. The camera system was updated in 2013, and a pair of owls arrived at the box during the last week of February 2014.

In addition to the Barn Owls, other birds of the open grasslands can be heard vocalizing in the background, including Eastern Phoebes, Tufted Titmice, Eastern Bluebirds, and Western Meadowlarks.

About the Barn Owls

Little is known about the two Barn Owls who have taken up residence in this owl box. In 2013 a pair successfully fledged four young owls from this site and those same adults may have returned again in 2014. During the day the owls rest and preen, leaving to forage as night approaches. Listen for their eerie, raspy vocalizations throughout the day and keep track of their comings and goings throughout the night thanks to the infrared illuminator in the box (don’t worry—the light is invisible to the owls.)

Barn Owls are more sexually dimorphic than other owl species. The female is larger than the male, with a heavily spotted chest and more color on her head and body; in contrast, the male appears very white and pale. She creates the simple nest cup of shredded regurgitated pellets in which she’ll lay an average of 2-18 eggs and the male brings meals of small mammals for her and the nestlings. The female incubates the eggs as soon as they are laid, leading to “hatching asynchrony,” a situation where there are big differences in size between the nestlings based upon the hatch date of each. In years of scarcity, the smallest perish and are sometimes even consumed by their nest mates. Though nest failures such as this are difficult to watch, this strategy enables the parents to produce as many young as conditions allow.

Learn more about Barn Owls in our AllAboutBirds Species Guide.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to the landowners, who wish to remain anonymous, for allowing us access to this nest and to the property manager for helping to maintain the camera during the season.

Birds of North America Online
ML Essential Set