"A Best Friend"

Barn Owls

        Until a few years ago man, mice, and rats were engaged in a life and death struggle to see who would get to eat the year’s food harvest. Crops put in storage, and not protected from rodents, were soon gone. They were either eaten or spoiled with rodent droppings. Each farm or ranch needed their own rodent protection plan. Small terrier type dogs called ratters were bred for their ability to go after the rat population. Cats were kept at each ranch or farm to perform their fierce, miniature tiger barn owlroutine, hoping to keep the mice numbers at bay. The problem with rodents, ‘they are mostly creatures of the night’. Seldom is a mouse out and about during the daylight hours. Usually, the only way you know there is a rodent problem is finding the damage done, or the droppings left to advertise their presence.

        Barns were big, tall, rambling structures, designed to store food for both man and beast through the long winter, until the next harvest. As crop yields grew larger, more protection was needed for vital supplies . The farmers found they had a best friend, a wild weapon, Barn Owls, the hunters of the night. Silent birds of prey that would target rodents, and sail through barn rafters and man-made structures, to capture prey in pitch black conditions.

        The Barn Owl is found on all continents except Antarctica. It is one of the most widely distributed birds in the world. It has many other names, which may refer to the appearance, or the eerie, silent flight: White Owl, Silver Owl, Demon Owl, Ghost Owl, Death Owl, Night Owl, Rat Owl, Church Owl, Cave Owl, Stone Owl, Monkey-faced Owl, Hissing Owl, Hobgoblin Owl, Dobby Owl, Golden Owl, Scritch Owl, Screech Owl, Straw Owl, Barnyard Owl and Delicate Owl.

        On a trip to Canada, in rich farming country, we saw lots of abandoned barns and homes, many surrounded by clusters of trees. They were once homes to man and now left in ruin for the vagrant rodent with the custodial care of Barn Owls. Whatever country or whatever place, the Barn Owl has a job to do. Barn Owls hunt at night. Just before daylight they withdraw to an enclosed area of an old building, hollow tree, a hole in a rocky cliff, and remain there all day. When hunting at night they sweep the fields on silent wings to catch their prey and then take it to feed upon. The prey is torn apart and swallowed, bones, skulls and all. The indigestible parts are formed into pellets and disgorged at the roosting area or somewhere about the nest. If you come upon pellets on the ground, look up, you may see an Owl, someone’s best friend. Please do not disturb sleeping owl during the day, they need their rest and if you push them out of their hidden holes, they become prey for day time hunters such as hawks and eagles.

        Brenda Rusnell is the artist of the Barn Owl, drawn with colored pencils. With this drawing, you can see why this Owl has so many names. If you have questions about Owls, birds, wildlife, or any of the upcoming Red Cliffs Audubon activities call Marilyn Davis at 435 673-0996 or log onto our website at


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