Barn Owls: Agriculture, Rodent and Gopher Control

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The barn owl has been around for the last 26 million years and its importance to agriculture in California is just coming to the forefront. It is one of the most skilled hunters of rodents in North America. It does not have to see its prey to make a kill. Its face is a dish shape, similar to a satellite dish, and the ears are asymmetrical so it can locate rodents such as gophers or mice rustling around for food under 16-inch-tall grass, then swoop down and make the kill.

In a study at Cornell University, a barn owl was put in a completely darkened room. When a rubber mouse was dragged by a thread, 99% of the time the barn owl hit the mouse. A live mouse was substituted for the rubber mouse with the same results. To sum up, the barn owl's silent flight coupled with the hearing ability to triangulate on the target like radar makes it a formidable rodent-killing machine.

A 1997-98 California study of barn owls' diet focused on what the birds were feeding their young during the eight week period from hatching to fledging. The study showed that 42% of their diet was pocket gophers, 30% voles (large field mice), 17% deer mice, 6% house mice and 5% other prey.

One barn owl will eat on the average of 155 gophers per year, or 53 pounds of gophers. If you had a mere 48 Barn Owls in your area, they would consume 7,440 gophers or 1.3 tons of gophers per year.

At Merced High School, where my colleague Steve Simmons developed his Raptor Works program, they are in their fifth year of manufacturing barn owl boxes from agricultural waste that was headed for a land fill. They have produced nearly 5,000 barn owl boxes to date, along with wood duck, American kestrel, screech owl and bluebird boxes.

All proceeds from their box sales are used for student scholarships and barn owl research such as the above diet study, and banding research. Steve recently told me that he banded over 3,000 Barn Owls in one year!

By putting up a barn owl box, you provide a place for the owls to roost when the leaves drop off the trees in the fall and a safe place to nest and raise their family of owlets (5 to 7 per box) in the spring. In turn, they will provide you with 365 nights a year thumping of rodents in your fields. They never call in sick or demand a raise, you don't have to pay workmans compensation or have to worry about any liability if they get injured on the job.

The only maintenance you have to perform for the owls once the box is installed is to clean it out once a year. Do wear a dust mask when cleaning out the boxes and be sure to wash your hands when finished. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us – telephone and e-mail assistance is always free.

Rodent & Gopher Consumption by Barn Owls

Study completed by
Jody Gallaway, Wildlife Resources Management
Julie Goldzman, California Polytechnic State University
Terri Jensen, University of California, Davis
Steve Simmons, Raptor Works, Merced, CA.

2 adult barn owls x 48 nest boxes = 96 barn owls
3 owlets survive per box x 48 nest Boxes = 144 owlets
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240 total owls x 365 days per year (consuming 1 rodent a day)
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87,600 total rodents killed x 42% (gophers in diet)
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36,792 gophers killed per year
x 156 grams (average weight per gopher)
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5,739,552 grams ÷ 453.6 (grams per ounce)
12,653 total pounds of gophers consumed
or
6.3 tons of gophers consumed in 1 year, which means...

Wow!
Now that's rodent control!


Barn Owl FAQ

Acknowledgments

Wild Wing Company, would like to personally thank the following contributors to the development of this web page about barn owls.

First, I'd like to thank my friend and fellow barn owl conservationist Steve Simmons, for the barn owl diet study and his innumerable contributions. Also, I'd like to thank Bert Kersey and his wife Sharon, for the great pictures that they provided to help illustrate barn owls in action.

Bert Kersey and Sharon are the owners of Backyard Barn Owls, located in Fallbrook, CA, and they put together a fantastic video about Barn Owls. Shot from the back of their home, this video depicts two years of video of a family of barn owls in various stages of nest box activity, from eggs, to the hatching of the owlets, to the swallowing WHOLE of local rodents ("YIKES!"), and all the way to fledging.

"We first encountered Barn Owls ten years ago when a local tree and bird expert recommended putting up an owl box for gopher control in our yard." Bert told us. "It worked (!) and we've had (barn) owls ever since."

Wild Wing Company highly recommends the video for teachers, conservationist, gardeners, vineyard owners and vineyard management companies. Wild Wing Company uses the video to help visually educate our clients about barn owls, and you owe it to yourself, your students and your customers the visual benefits that this great video provides.

Order the Backyard Barn Owls video at their website: www.barnowlvideo.com

Enjoy the Barn Owls!