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Barn Owls: DNR offering plans for nesting boxes as part of preservation project

Monday, October 17, 2011

On Friday, Amy Kearns (at right), an assistant biologist with the Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife based at Mitchell, led a group of local bird enthusiasts at the Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area near Linton and showed them how to construct and place a barn owl box on their own property. Among the group was and Del Striegel (at left) a DNR volunteer from Georgetown, Ind., Bloomington resident Lee Sterrenburg with Sassafras Chapter of the Audubon Society and the recognized expert on birds at Goose Pond FWA; Friends of Goose Pond members Sandra Miles and Ed Paynter of rural Bloomfield.
(By Nick Schneider) [Order this photo]
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources is making a pro-active effort to provide nesting and roosting habitat for barn owls -- a state-declared endangered species of bird.

On Friday, Amy Kearns, an assistant biologist with the Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife based at Mitchell, led a group of local bird enthusiasts at the Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area near Linton and showed them how to construct and place a barn owl box on their own property.

The placement at Goose Pond FWA was done at a location that is not being made public because of fear that curious onlookers might disturb the box and eradicate this local effort to help preserve a bird species that has declined in population in the state since the 1970s.

An adult Barn Owl that was displayed at last spring's Marsh Madness event in Linton.
(GCDW File photo by Shad Cox)
Among the group was Bloomington resident Lee Sterrenburg with Sassafras Chapter of the Audubon Society and the recognized expert on birds at Goose Pond FWA; Friends of Goose Pond members Ed Paynter and Sandra Miles, of rural Bloomfield; and Del Striegel, a DNR volunteer from Georgetown, Ind.

Striegel was along to pick up some tips on how to recognize barn owl habitat and nesting in order to place a box in the O'Bannon State Forest near Corydon.

Kearns and John Castrale monitor the barn owl population in the state and Kearns says the nesting box project is a way to ensure the birds are protected and allowed to increase in numbers.

Barn Owl pellets are a good sign for placing a nesting box.
(By Nick Schneider) [Order this photo]
"Most barn owls nest in the southern part of the state. It is state endangered. It's not federal endangered," Kearns stated. "If a (barn) owl is roosting somewhere, that's your best shot. Put a box up there."

The barn owl has a body length of 14 - 20 inches, a 3 1/2 foot wingspan, and weighs 8 - 21 ounces.

The female lays 4 - 7 eggs, sometimes more, which are incubated for 29 - 34 days. Young owls fledge 7 - 10 weeks after hatching, but do not leave the area until they are 3 - 5 months old.

DNR volunteer (at left) Del Striegel (at left) a DNR volunteer from Georgetown helps Assistant biologist with the Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife Amy Kearns position the box in a building on Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife area property.
(By Nick Schneider) [Order this photo]
Barn owls do not build a nest, but will lay their eggs on the floor of the box or on top of whatever material is in the box. The owls will cough up pellets in the box, and these pellets will get trampled down into a perfectly soft, velvety nesting material.

The eggs are also distinctive.

Barn owl eggs are white and round, about the size and shape of a Ping-Pong ball.

Amy Kearns , an assistant biologist with the Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife based at Mitchell, looks at the side door of the new box to make sure it is working properly.
(By Nick Schneider) [Order this photo]
Nests are commonly found in hollow trees, cliff cavities, in buildings, and nest boxes.

"There is a lot of really great barn owl habitat in Greene County ... I think there could be more barn owls here if we had more nest boxes."

Plans are available for anyone to easily and economically construct a box.

Plans to build a Barn Owl box provided by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
"I am most interested in people building it themselves and putting it up. If someone has owls nesting in their barn, I'm absolutely interested. I would come out right away and help them find a good place to put their box."

The DNR has been putting up nest boxes for 25 years. There are about 250 placed throughout the state and the latest one put up Friday is the third in the Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area.

In 2009, 17 of the boxes were occupied by barn owls.

"We generally know about 20 nests in the state every year. I'm sure there are more than that, but they are not reported to us. Probably some of them are never discovered. If a farmer finds a nest, I don't think they always tell us. So we kind of have to guess about how many we have. They are pretty uncommon and a pretty rare bird," Kearns told the group.

The nesting boxes are key to the program's success.

"Putting up nest boxes in appropriate habitat can really help their population. I mean giving them a safe place to lay their eggs and raise their young really can help them. In this barn, there is zero chance of a barn owl being able to successfully raise young. They would have to nest on the ground and you know there are raccoons and other predators in here. If you put up a nest box, all of a sudden there is a safe place to roost and nest."

One of the major reasons the owl population is dwindling is the declining amount of forage area.

"The reason we have less barn owls in Indiana is because of less-than-ideal foraging habitat. They eat voles and mice and shrews. They need to have open areas of hayfields, pastures, fallow fields and grasslands," Kearns said. "Once it grows up into woods it's not so good for barn owls ... it's best to have an open area away from wood lots."

Location of a barn owl box is important to protect its occupants from predators.

"You don't want to put up a box where there is vines and trees and right near the entrance because moles and raccoons can get into the box," she said.

Barn owls lay eggs in early April, so Kearns says now is a good time to erect a nest box so the birds can begin roosting.

The wooden boxes that Kearns builds have an access door on the side instead of the top of the box.

"This makes it easier for me to clean out and check the box," she said. "One note about the access door -- it must be on the same side of the box as the hole the owls use to enter and exit the box. This way, if you open the door on a box full of owlets, they will crowd to the back of the box instead of jumping out the hole and prematurely fledging."

The boxes she constructs are 36 inches x 16 inches x 16 inches, to make the least waste from a 4 x 8 plywood sheet. However, the exact size of the box is not that important.

The nesting boxes can draw other birds, like American Kestrels, Rock Pigeons and European Starlings.

"The Kestrels are a native species and are protected by law, so please don't evict them from the box. They are attractive birds and are the next best thing to having a barn owl," Kearns noted.

Pigeons or starlings are non-native, invasive species and are not protected by law.

The DNR office can be reached by calling (812) 849-4586 for questions about nesting locations or plans to construct a nesting box. The address is Indiana Department of Resources, 562 DNR Road, Mitchell, Ind., 47446.

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If you wanted more barn owls why did you tear down good barns on one of the best area farms around. I speak of the beehunter marsh where many Indian graves are docmented (which you will not admit to)and a lot of property tax is lost. You say the marsh was not good farm land. Makes me wonder how my family paid cash for many new items of equipment over a 20 year period, sent children to college and paid much support to local church in Lyons? I have many times tried to get the state to reconize the Indian graves . I might also add the Beehunter marsh is NOT part of the goose pond, it's part of the old Neal and the Star farm. This was clearly painted on one of the barns the state destroyed.

-- Posted by Wilson Wilson on Mon, Oct 17, 2011, at 4:16 PM

Very nice article on the Owls ! Good job ! I would like to try putting up some nest boxes too, I hear them here sometines, love hearing them !

-- Posted by bluenosegoober on Tue, Oct 18, 2011, at 10:11 AM

Wilson, you wrote: "If 'you' wanted more barn owls why did 'you' tear down good barns .... 'You' say the marsh was not good farm land. ..."

Who is the "you" to whom you refer multiple times? It certainly can't be any of the people named in the article. They neither had anything to do with tearing down barns nor did they make any comments about the soil quality of local farms.

This was a great article, more complete and extensive than most, about an interesting topic and useful because the plans were included. Rather than comment on the good work being done or the article itself, you chose to bring up what is apparently a sore topic that you've been trying to get some traction on for some time.

Do you expect anyone reading your comment can do anything about recognizing Indian graves? Write a letter to the editor. Call the Daily World and ask if they'll do an article about your allegations. Or find some appropriate way to make your point. Just don't use this unrelated article to prosecute your issue.

-- Posted by Forrest on Wed, Oct 19, 2011, at 7:44 PM

I have wanted to place owl boxes for a while. Now I have plans. Indian graves should be investigated and recognized! Afterall~ you are walking on Indian Land..It's ALL Indian Land.

-- Posted by DMcEnery on Thu, Oct 20, 2011, at 11:33 AM

Forrest throughout this entire article it is clear that they are placing these at the Goose Pond FWA maybe you should re read the article if you can't figure out "who" Wilson is speaking of than you are wearing blinders!

If what Wilson say's is so I am curious to hear more, I'm glad Wilson wrote what he did, I do hope that someone will dig into this and find out more. that is just wrong!!! you obviously have no respect for the Indians and their Burial grounds!

-- Posted by lillymae on Fri, Oct 21, 2011, at 12:23 PM

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