Barn Owl (Case History #5)

Older nestling Barn Owls fledged from nest box with supplemental feeding

A brood of five young Barn Owls were removed from an attic that was being remodeled in Mt. Hope, a tiny rural community in Lawrence County, Alabama.  A neighbor named Steve Fisher rescued the birds, which had been dumped in the yard, and members of the Wildlife Center’s Raptor Network relayed them to Birmingham. The birds were approximately 4 to 5 weeks old. Since they appeared to be healthy, I contacted Steve Fisher and arranged to bring the nestlings back up and install a nest box in the yard of the house where they had been found. When I arrived, however, the neighbor was not available, and we could not to install the nest box on his property without permission.  Steve Fisher’s house was about a half block away, so we installed the box on the roof of a shed in his yard.  This is a good deal farther than I like to go when relocating a Barn Owl family, but it was the only option available to us. We played the food-begging calls of the juveniles on the game caller, first in the yard of the house where the owls had been nesting, and then in Steve Fisher’s yard near the nest box. There was no response at either location. Later, Steve mentioned that he had seen a dead Barn Owl on the street a few days earlier. We concluded that this must have been one of the
parents of our nestlings.

It was a lovely summer evening, and the area was perfect Barn Owl habitat—broad green pastures stretched in all directions, dotted here and there with huge old shade trees.  I hated to take the birds away from this ideal spot, since they would be fledging in less than two weeks. Also, these birds were quite well-developed, and would be fledging within less than 2 weeks. All they needed was minimal assistance to make it through the four to six weeks before they would become independent.  With Steve’s assistance, I decided to try hacking the birds from the nest box located on the roof of Steve Fisher’s shed. Steve agreed to feed the owls every day until they fledged, and to go on putting food in the nest box until the birds stopped coming back.  I put a generous helping of mice in the nest box with the baby owls, and left an immediate food supply with Steve. By great good fortune, the Wildlife Center’s rodent supplier, Steve Waldrop, lives in the next county, and he agreed to deliver frozen rats to Steve Fisher every week until the birds were independent. Steve Fisher kept me posted on the progress of the birds by email.  All of the owls fledged, and Steve was able to watch them hunting in the fields around his house.  The young birds continued to visit the nest box for food for several weeks after fledging.

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