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Barn Owls are nocturnal birds of prey that capture their prey with their feet. The eyes of all owls are aimed forward so that to look to the side they must turn their heads. Barn Owls (Aluconidae) have no ear-tufts, but an elegant heart-shaped face. Its plumage is full, soft and downy. It has long legs. Its claws are long and sharp -- the better to catch mice, gophers, rats, voles and other rodents that make up most of its diet. (They are highly beneficial to man, particularly for farmers' crops.)

The Barn Owl's hunting equipment includes the unique shape of its face which acts as a parabolic disc that traps sound waves. This and exquisitely sensitive ears allow it to locate prey in total darkness by sound alone. Measuring about 18 inches in length, with a wing-span of about 44 inches, it glides silently at night, sometimes covering up to 100 acres in search of rats and mice. Its preferred habitat is open country with fields, or gardens and orchards. Barn Owls will catch and eat their weight in food every night, and more. Is there a problem?

Yes. In the Midwest where Agriculture and "Development" is big and changing. Barn Owls, like many others are declining as farm methods turn land into monocultures with very little habitat left for ground animals that are the Barn Owls' prey. Favored nest sites, such as old barns and buildings, are being razed -- as needs be --only to be replaced with far less hospitable, modern structures.

So go the open fields, too, as developers and highways move in.. Worse, their prey -- their food -- is increasingly contaminated by rodent pesticides and other chemicals. Without human assistance, they will disappear from the Midwest, and other portions of the country.


Nesting sites and the discontinuation of the use of rodent pesticides where you wish to encourage them are two factors that will help. Barn Owls are efficient and less dangerous to humans than the rodent pesticides. And they're free. And a renewable resource. And beautiful. Build a Barn Owl Nest Box. A good project on a Winter day, or any day.

*Information provided for this article by World Bird Sanctuary and Others.

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