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Hunters of the Night - the Barn Owl

Layout and design Jim FlowersLarry Hitchens | E-Mail | Posted 07-14-2011

Hunters of the Night, the Barn Owl - Larry Hitchens

Hunters of the Night, the Barn Owl - Larry Hitchens

"The Great Barn Owl Banding Trip" ... After I decided to "retire" four years ago, I purchased a 600mm Canon lens and one of Canon's upscale cameras, both of which cost about the same as a small sports car. As my interest in birds of prey and wildlife photography expanded, I became fixated on owls. I read an article online entitled "Owls! You want me to find Owls?" This was exactly how I felt, so I proceeded to educate myself on where owls might be located and at what times I could find them. As I became more knowledgeable on the subject, discovering that some owls actually hunt during the daytime, some occupy swamps, some old pine woods etc., I began to compile a nice portfolio of photos. But much to my dismay, I had no Barn Owl images. After four years of consulting friends, local farmers, farm bureaus, and running ads in the local paper, I was about to give up the search for the elusive Barn Owl.

As my photography improved, I won a few contests and became better known. I started receiving requests from various state and federal agencies for copies of my photographs to be used in their brochures and signboards. Wildlife resource agencies in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and most recently North Carolina have used my photos for such purposes. Not long ago I got a request from the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife for some photos and it occurred to me to ask if they would be able to assist me in getting a Barn Owl photo. Much to my surprise the reply was "Sure, we're getting ready to band the Barn Owls next week and you're welcome to come along". The following photos were taken on this outing.

Barn Owl Box - Larry Hitchens
Barn Owl Box 2 - Larry Hitchens

Above are a few of the barn owl boxes the group worked with. These were constructed out of plywood with dimensions approximately 3' long and 18" high with an entry/exit at one end and a 12" x 12" access door at the other. Some of the owl boxes were located inside barns while others were attached to outbuildings atop 6 x 6" posts 20 feet above the ground. All the boxes were located on private farms. The bander first used a long aluminum pole with a piece of plywood and foam attached to block the entry/exit hole trapping the birds inside.

Catching a Barn Owl - Larry Hitchens
Cathing a Barn Owl 2 - Larry Hitchens

The bander used an extension ladder to access the 20 foot high boxes on the 6x6 posts. With a gloved hand and the rest of his arm exposed, the bander reached through the 12 x 12 inch door and grabbed an owlet by his legs and gently drew him through the doorway. Sometimes this process could be done without a lot of fuss and other times the bird was somewhat uncooperative, as shown above. Keep in mind all this is happening atop a 20 foot ladder.

Bagging a Barn Owl - Larry Hitchens
Bagging a Barn Owl 2 - Larry Hitchens

The owls were then placed in pillow cases with zippers and allowed to quiet down (see above). The following step was to place a numbered metal band on the left leg. Delaware bands the left leg and New Jersey bands the right (see below right).

Weighing a Barn Owl - Larry Hitchens
Banding a Barn Owl - Larry Hitchens
Banding a Barn Owl 2- Larry Hitchens

The owls were then weighed while still inside the bag. Their approximate age was determined by using a group of photos displaying owls at different stages of development. The owls weighed only 1 to 1-1/2 pounds, which was normal, even for the adult birds.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Larry Hitchens
Tyto alba - Larry Hitchens
Barn Owl - Larry Hitchens

Following the banding and weighing exercise, the owls were held up for me to photograph (above and below). For the most part they were docile and fairly cooperative. The next phase of the process was to remove all material from the boxes and replace that with clean, fresh bedding. The final step was putting the owls back in the box.

Barn Owl Chick - Larry Hitchens
Barn Owl fledgling- Larry Hitchens

Below are a few Barn Owl facts, several which I was surprised to learn.

  • The average life span of the Barn Owl is one to one and a half years.

  • The Barn Owl only weighs 1 to 1-1/2 pounds and is about 18" tall with a wingspan of 30-43 inches.

  • Their eggs are laid in succession approximately every two days. Because of this time spread, some of the owlets will fledge before others.

  • The owlets consume 1-1/2 times their body weight every day and their diet consist of mostly rodents. With the owlet weighing a little over a pound and with an average of six owlets in the brood, nine pounds of rodents are caught every day by the parents.

  • The average brood is 6-7 owlets, which can molt their nestling down and fledge in 4-1/2 to 5 weeks. The owls can sometimes have more than one brood a year depending on the availability of food.

  • Unlike most owls, the Barn Owl does not hoot, but hisses and screeches. The Barn Owl will use a beak snap to indicate anger while swaying its head side to side.

  • Barn Owls have the best sense of hearing of all the owls and can pinpoint prey in total darkness.

Measuring a Barn Owl - Larry Hitchens
Barn Owl scientific study- Larry Hitchens

Barn Owl and friend - Larry Hitchens
Barn Owl, the night hunter - Larry Hitchens

For more information about the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife visit ... Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife.

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