Barn Owls

Location: Texas

Camera Host: Anonymous

Risk of Starvation

Continued severe weather and rain has made it difficult for the Barn Owls to find food, and very little prey has been brought to the nest in the past few days. It is not uncommon for Barn Owls to experience food shortages that prevent them from raising some or all of their young in some years. For many wild bird species, more than half of all nests fail. We will not interfere with natural circumstances at the nest. The best chance for these owlets to survive as wild birds is to be raised by their parents. There is still a chance for that to happen for at least a few of these owlets.

 

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May 29, 2016

Three Prey Deliveries, Fourth Owlet Dies

An adult owl was able to deliver three prey items last night, but, despite the deliveries, a fourth owlet passed away early this morning. 

May 28, 2016

Prey Delivered to Nest

Early this morning at 1:14AM, a large rat was delivered to the nest by one of the adults. The adult did not enter the nest, and the rat was consumed in its entirety by what appeared to be the middle-sized owlet. 

May 27, 2016

Third Owlet Passes Away

This evening either the 3rd or 4th owlet appeared unresponsive and was eventually consumed by its nestmates. In unexpected times of scarcity, many raptors will use their own young to prolong the lives of the older, stronger individuals.  

May 24, 2016

Spring Cleaning

Dottie – the female Barn Owl – did some spring cleaning in the nest box today. In this clip we see her kicking up the pellets (indigestible materials cast up by the owls) that line the nest box, flinging debris to the sides and eating any feces she finds. The owlets will soon learn to clean the nest themselves and will start kicking the material around and shredding up the pellets. They will defecate away from the area where they usually rest. Watch for a raising of the tail and a wiggle! 

May 13, 2016

Agressive Interactions Between Dottie and Dash

Dottie responds aggressively to Dash entering the nestbox without additional food. These interactions are part of the way that she will continue to try and motivate Dash to increase the prey he has been delivering for the owlets.  More...

April 29, 2016

Dottie and Fly

Check out this adorable clip of Dottie chasing a fly around the nest box. 

May 29

Three Prey Deliveries, Fourth Owlet Dies

An adult owl was able to deliver three prey items last night, but, despite the deliveries, a fourth owlet passed away early this morning. 

May 28

Prey Delivered to Nest

Early this morning at 1:14AM, a large rat was delivered to the nest by one of the adults. The adult did not enter the nest, and the rat was consumed in its entirety by what appeared to be the middle-sized owlet. 

May 27

Third Owlet Passes Away

This evening either the 3rd or 4th owlet appeared unresponsive and was eventually consumed by its nestmates. In unexpected times of scarcity, many raptors will use their own young to prolong the lives of the older, stronger individuals.  

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.