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The Carthage Press
  • Nocturnal hunter and farmer's friend

  • A Jasper County farmer called us to tell us of a group of barn owls he had seen roosting in one of his barns in the past few days.
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  • A Jasper County farmer called us to tell us of a group of barn owls he had seen roosting in one of his barns in the past few days.
    The owls were sleeping in the rafters of his barn. He asked me not to reveal his name or the location of the barn, but granted me permission to take pictures.
    Barn owls are not an uncommon owl in Missouri, but the Department of Conservation calls them a "Species of Conservation Concern" because of the loss of their habitat.
    They, like other owl and raptor species, provide a service to humans by eating rodents and keeping the rodent population under control.
    Barn owls are not to be confused with barred owls, a larger species with a different color pattern.
    Here's more about the barn owl from the Missouri Department of Conservation:
    • Size: Length: 16 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail); wingspan: 3 1/2 to 4 feet.
    • Habitat and conservation: Open woodlands, pastures and croplands—landscapes with grain to harbor good rodent populations. Commonly nest in old barns, grain elevators, cotton gins, grain storage buildings and occasionally hollow trees. Mortality is often high during hard winters, but even though populations may temporarily decline, they can repopulate an area quickly. Many landowners take advantage of these owls’ rodent-hunting skills by putting up boxes so barn owls can nest without entering a building.
    • Foods: Primary food is small rodents, but also eats birds, insects, bats and reptiles. Nocturnal foragers, they fly slowly across grasslands searching for prey.
    • Distribution in Missouri: Statewide. (This species is one of the most widespread of all birds, found throughout much of the world.)
    • Status: Rare permanent resident. A Species of Conservation Concern in Missouri, where their populations are vulnerable.
    • Life cycle: These nocturnal predators often wait until several hours after dark before emerging from their roosts. Nesting may occur in any month of the year. There are usually 5–10 eggs in a clutch. These are incubated for about a month. About 7 weeks after hatching, the young are ready to fledge, but they practice foraging with their parents for another week or so before leaving the area. Life expectancy is only 1 or 2 years.
    • Human connections: Because of their effectiveness at hunting rodents, these owls perform a great service to farmers and others in the grain business who continually face rodent pests. Barn owls are encouraged worldwide for this reason.
    • Ecosystem connections: With their ability to hunt by sound—in complete darkness—as well as by sight, barn owls are efficient mousers and do much to keep populations of those prolific breeders in check. Meanwhile, opossums, raccoons and other owls feed on barn owls and their eggs and young.
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