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
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
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"
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
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, Courtesy
Indiana Department of Natural Resources/J.F. Maxwell