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Barn Owl Conservation Initiative


The Pennsylvania Game Commission is seeking information on barn owl sightings throughout Pennsylvania. Field surveys show that barn owl populations have been steadily declining in Pennsylvania over the past several decades. The decline is attributed to the loss of farmland and grassland habitats where the owls hunt for small mammals, and to the loss of secure nesting sites. Currently, barn owls occupy areas of the state with a high concentration of open habitats such as hayfields, pastures, and meadows. The Game Commission is looking for landowners who currently have barn owls, or have habitat that could potentially attract nesting barn owls to their properties.

In 2006, the Game Commission developed the Barn Owl Conservation Initiative with the goal of securing the species' future in the Commonwealth. Through this ongoing effort, the agency is compiling information on where barn owls currently exist, including nest sites and incidental occurrences. When new occurrences are reported, we provide landowners information on how they can help with barn owl conservation by providing secure nesting locations and maintaining appropriate foraging habitat. Often times this simply means installing an appropriately placed nest box in an area composed primarily of grassland or farmland habitat. Nest box plans (PDF) are available on the Game Commission website and boxes are available for purchase from the Howard Nursery.

The Game Commission has also been engaged in several research projects to learn more about Pennsylvania barn owls. Biologists have been confirming active nest site
locations, monitoring nest productivity, and collecting weight and age data of nestlings. More than 1,000 owlets have been banded to determine where they travel after leaving the nest and to estimate their lifespan if they are ever recovered. The Game Commission has been working cooperatively with other academic researchers analyzing the diets of barn owls and assessing population dynamics through genetic analysis. Additional information is available in the 2012 annual report (PDF) and this video on YouTube.

Barn owls measure about 10 to 15 inches tall and have a wingspan of 41 to 47 inches. Their distinctive long heart-shaped facial disk has earned this owl the moniker of "monkey-faced owl." They have a nearly pure-white to dusky breast with small spots, small dark eyes, and make hissing or scream-like vocalizations. Barn owls are found in agricultural fields, grasslands, and other open areas. They tend to avoid forested landscapes, primarily because they hunt for food in open, grassland habitats. As their name implies, barn owls commonly nest in barns as well as silos, abandoned buildings and artificial nest boxes. They have also been known to nest in cavities of large dead trees, rock crevices and even burrows in riverbanks. Because barn owls feed primarily on rodents, they are beneficial to farmers. An average family of barn owls can consume up to 3,000 rodents (mostly meadow voles) during the course of the breeding season.

To determine if you have a barn owl on your property, look in barns, silos, abandoned buildings and under possible roost sites for regurgitated owl pellets, which are dense pellets of undigested fur and bone about one to two inches long. Also, after dark, listen for long hissing shriek-like vocalizations, which are very different from the typical "hoots" of most owls. For more information on all Pennsylvania owls, review the Owls Wildlife Note (PDF).

The Game Commission continues to seek cooperation and participation in this important effort. If you are aware of any barn owls in your area, are interested in helping construct barn owl nest boxes, or would like more information on barn owls, please contact the Regional Wildlife Diversity Biologist in your area:

Northwest: Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango, Warren counties - RWD Biologist Stacy Wolbert at 814-226-4348 or Stacy can also be reached through the Game Commission Northwest Region Office at 814-432-3187 or by mail to 1509 Pittsburgh Road, Franklin, PA 16323.

Northcentral: Cameron, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Lycoming, McKean, Potter, Tioga and Union counties - RWD Biologist Mario Giazzon at 570-660-2483 or Mario can also be reached through the Northcentral Region Office at 570-398-4744 or by mail at P.O. Box 5038, Jersey Shore, PA 17740.

Northeast: Bradford, Carbon, Columbia, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Montour, Northumberland, Pike, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties - RWD Biologist Richard Fritsky at 570-879-2575 or Rich can also be reached through the Game Commission Northeast Region Office at 570-675-1143 or by mail to 3917 Memorial Highway, Dallas, PA 18612.

Southwest: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties - RWD Biologist Tammy Colt at 814-233-2281 or Tammy can also be reached through the Game Commission Southwest Region Office at 724-238-9523 or by mail to 4820 Route 711, Bolivar, PA 15923.

Southcentral: Adams, Bedford, Blair, Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Snyder and York counties - RWD Biologist Clayton Lutz at 717-667-4293 or Clayton can also be reached through the Game Commission Southcentral Region Office at 814-643-1831 or mail to 8627 William Penn Highway, Huntingdon, PA 16652.

Southeast: Berks, Bucks, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, and Schuylkill counties - RWD Biologist Dan Mummert at 717-626-0031 or Dan can also be reached through the Game Commission Southeast Region Office by calling 610-926-3136 or mailing to 253 Snyder Road, Reading, PA 19605.