Barn Owl (Case History #2)

Older nestling relocated to nest box from haven on front porch; orphaned nestling fostered to same nest box.

One day in the summer of 2004 we received a call from a lady in Eastaboga, in Calhoun County, Alabama. She reported that there was a young Barn Owl that was living on her front porch, and she wanted us to move it to a more suitable location. I loaded up a Barn Owl nest box and arranged to meet volunteer Tim Johnson in Eastaboga. Just in case there was a fostering opportunity, I brought along an orphaned nestling Barn Owl that we were caring for at the time. The location was a splendid one for Barn Owls, as cattle pastures stretched in all directions around a handsome old mansion with a huge Magnolia tree in the front yard.

The lady of the house showed us the young owl, an older nestling or young brancher hunched defensively by the front door. It was obvious that it had been living there for some time, as there was an abundance of white droppings all over the porch. Scattered here and there were the decaying remains of rats and squirrels, indicating that the bird’s parents were doing a good job of providing their offspring with food. The homeowners had been amazingly tolerant of the young bird, considering the mess the Barn Owls were making. Tim installed the nest box in the huge magnolia tree just a few yards away, and we first put the orphaned nestling from the Wildlife Center in the box, and gave it a few minutes to settle down in the back of the 4-foot long box. Then Tim gently captured the nestling from the porch and placed it just inside the doorway of the box. The two birds had a chance to look each other over before they could panic and lash out at each other, and both settled in quietly.

The remains on the front porch made it obvious that the parents were feeding their offspring, and since the nest box was so close to the porch, we knew that they would eventually hear both young birds calling for food and sooner or later would locate them in the nest box in the tree. However, it was a simple matter to play the calls and attract the adult owls to the nest box.   This would save us making a follow-up visit to verify that the juveniles were being cared for. Tim set up the game caller at the foot of the tree and played the recording to call in the adults. Although it was not yet fully dark, it was only 15 or 20 minutes after we started playing the food begging call that we observed one of the adult owls flying in from the cattle pasture across the road and heading straight to the magnolia tree. We gave the adult a few minutes to locate and enter the nest box, and then Tim went over to recover the game caller. As he stooped down to pick up the machine, the adult swooped down and attacked him, confirming conclusively that the owl had found the nestlings and was defending them. Fortunately, Tim received only a few minor scratches, and still enjoys a chuckle at his own expense.

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