"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Nesting Barn Owls, a Blessed Event
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

Yes, I do get giddy now and again about hunting, fishing and numerous other outdoor things. And one of my giddiest moments (not to be confused with "giddyup") came this summer when my dairy farmer friends, Tom and Sally Waitt, told me they thought barn owls were using a nest box in their barn.

Their mere thoughts on the matter were exciting enough. After all, the barn owl has been on the Department of Natural Resources list of endangered species for several years. 

Yes, I was excited! But to make this potential "blessed event" even more exciting, I felt the pangs of godfatherism (if I may coin a word).

You see, back in 1993, Tom and Sally, who allow me hunt on their farm, had told me they thought barn owls were using their big ol' barn. That flipped my cork, too, so I told them I would get in touch with the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) Non-Game Section to see if they would like to place a barn owl nest box (with private entrance) high under the roof of the barn. 

I did, and the DFW biologists would and did. The nest box has been there since that time, presumably unoccupied. 

This year it was different. A couple of months ago, Tom and Sally told me (excitedly, as I munched a Sally chocolate chip and sipped a glass of cool, sweet Jersey milk) that they thought barn owls were using the nest box. I had looked at the opening to the box every time I was there--often with my little binoculars. But I had seen no evidence of use. 

It could be screech owls or some other Hoosier-type owl, I told them, but Tom said he had seen them and was pretty sure they were "monkey-faced" barn owls.

To avoid building up false hopes on the part of any of us, I told Tom and Sally I would see if the DFW biologists would want to check it out. 

Again, I did and they would/did. 

Guess what? They were, indeed, barn owls and they had at least two babies. I flipped. It was like getting a new bird dog puppy, or having a green-smocked doctor come to the door of the waiting room to tell you: "It's a fine big girl and they are both doing great."

As summer wore on, dusk and early evening turned into a beautiful natural drama on the proscenium of Dandy Breeze Dairy Farm. Tom, Sally, their brood of four, and other interested parties watched in awe as the old birds taught their young to fly and fed them. 

There were some minor undesirable aspects of the show. For example, one had to mind his step on the Waitt's lawn to avoid squashing a dead field mouse, vole or some other small critter that had been fumbled by a baby and came to rest beneath the big maple and oak trees. There were, of course, droppings (I salvaged some in a little plastic bag), and once teener Katie's hair was brushed by a swooping adult that thought the babies were in danger.

The show bowed out when some of the players (perhaps the young) struck out on their own . . . presumably to find new territory. There still are barn owls at Dandy Breeze, but now they are high in the silo. As Dr. John Castrale points out, the box may --or may not--be used again next spring. 

Dr. Castrale, who rides herd on raptorial birds for the DFW, says the Non-Game Section, has placed some 300 barn owl nest boxes in barns, belfries and other secretive high places. 

"Some are used every year," Dr. Castrale says, adding that success of the nest boxes is a sporadic thing.

Generally, though, Dr.Castrale believes the barn owl is holding its own in Hoosierland. 

Sure, the excitement of barn owl summer-stock will be missed, but we can hope for a grand reopening of the production when the sun comes north again. 

In the meantime, I will share my 4-by-10 foot deer hunting platform in the sprangled, old Osage orange tree (my old swivel chair on one end and the park-type bench on the other end for guests) with Tom and Sally's little guys who usurp it for a clubhouse.

At daylight--or soon thereafter on a frosty morn while they are preparing for school--I will quietly (without even the bat of an eye) marvel at the peculiarities of a dozen or so doves that perch in the wild grape vines two feet above my head. And perhaps a big buck--or even a little buck--will try to steal past. It has happened. 

Yes! I do get giddy about such goings on. 

Barn Owl Photo
Barn Owl Photo, Courtesy
Indiana Department of Natural Resources/J.F. Maxwell 


All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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