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Barn Owls

Location: Texas

Camera Host: Anonymous

Find more about Weather in Italy, TX

September 19, 2014

Mom Back in the Nest Box Again

We once more see the return of the female adult in the nest box, preening, scratching around and napping at 7:52 P.M. until 8:27 P.M. and then again at 2:40 A.M. until 5:18 A.M. There was no sign of the male adult. Could he be roosting nearby or is the female planning to dominate this territory for the winter? We originally predicted that both the male and female would occupy the the breeding territory over the fall/winter months, but it now appears that the female may plan on being the sole occupier.  

September 17, 2014

Another Quick Visit from Mom

Arriving at 5:55AM the female Barn Owl scratches around a little, naps and then departs around 40 minutes later. 

September 15, 2014

Quick Visit from Mom

Arriving at 19:59 the adult female only stayed in the nest for 42 minutes, with no visits for the rest of the night and no sign of Dad. 

September 14, 2014

Mom and Dad Continue to Bond

During the previous night, September 12-13, we saw the return once more of our Texas Barn Owl parents. We have seen them call for each other before, however the female spent more time in the nest box and the male attempted to mount the female. In this clip from the following night, September 13-14, it appears the male successfully mates with the female. This behavior could lead us to consider that we may see a second brood this year, however it may just be part of the pair bonding process. Copulation on its own is not sufficient to induce the female/ hen to lay. She must obtain an abundance of food. The male must meet the requirements delivering prey as the female will stay in the nest-box for the majority of the time if she were to lay again. We are seeing increased visits, with the female spending a longer time in the box, however the activity at the moment does not suggest a second brood is likely, as the female is not remaining in the box and the male has not delivered any prey items. We may also be able to hear the juveniles outside the box during this clip. The parents appear to call to them occasionally and they often look out the box, with the female leaving the male inside, presumably to visit one of the young.  

September 13, 2014

More Surprises from our Texas Barn Owls

At 9:52 P.M. September 12 we saw the return of the adult female, shortly followed by the male. The female was vocalizing loudly and proceeded to lie down as the male entered the nest box. The male then attempted to mount the female, but she refused him and instead continued to bill fence with him and vocalize loudly. The male then departed after a few minutes leaving the female. She then stayed in the nest box for around 2 hours. In the early hours of the morning, September 13, we saw the female return to inspect the box at 5:39 A.M. and again at 5:58 A.M. What do you think, could we see a second brood this late in the year? Only time will tell. 

September 12, 2014

Mom Returns and Surprises us with some Stomping

We believe this to be the female parent returning to the nest box at 20:35 P.M. September 11 and then again for another quick visit at 4:48 A.M. September 12. Some pairs remain at a nest site throughout the year, they have been noted roosting together and performing activities that maintain the pair bond, such as mutual preening and conversational chirrups. The behavior we have been witnessing between the parents recently may be just that. This is the first time we have seen the female parent enter the box and possibly call for her mate and perform the stomping dance we have seen the male do on several occasions. Males are known to stomp around the nest site as part of attracting the female to a nest. It may create a depression for eggs, but alternatively the action could be more symbolic than functional. During breeding season copulation almost always follows. It is thought that the majority of Barn Owl pairs have a loose bond, however this pair seem quite bonded. The male or female can remain the sole occupier of a breeding territory over the fall/ winter months, but we have a feeling we may see both parents continue to return to the nest box sporadically.  

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.

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