FRANKFORT – Wildlife biologists with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources need the public’s help in locating as many barn owl nesting sites as possible to gain a deeper understanding of why the species has declined in the state.
Barn owls, with their distinctive heart-shaped faces and dark eyes, were plentiful across Kentucky as late as the 1960s. Currently there are only about 50 documented nesting locations statewide.
Barn owls have gradually lost their historic nesting and foraging habitat as landowners have cut down old trees damaged by storms and converted pastures, hayfields and grasslands to row crops. Biologists are looking for additional reasons for the decline. Researchers are also asking for the public to report any dead barn owls, so that specimens can be collected and examined.
More common owl species are often confused with barn owls. Barn owls have no ear tufts. They are a medium-sized bird, measuring 14-20 inches tall. However, they can appear larger when in flight due to their 3½-foot wingspan. Barn owls have a whitish face and breast with whitish to pale cinnamon bodies. They do not hoot like some owls species. Instead, they screech and hiss, especially when approached.
Barn owls prefer open areas such as hayfields and pastures; they are not usually found in the woods. Although they often nest in hollow trees, barn owls regularly nest in man-made structures such as old barns, silos, grain bins, chimneys, hay lofts and attics. They also settle in older residential areas that have larger, cavity-prone trees.
Barn owls nest year-round in Kentucky, although most of the nesting activity occurs from March through August. They do not build a nest of sticks and grass. Instead, they lay their eggs directly on the surface of the nest site they choose.
For more information on barn owls, go online to fw.ky.gov and search under the keywords, “barn owl.”
Anyone with information about the location of a barn owl nest or a dead barn owl should contact Wildlife Biologist Kate Slankard at 800-858-1549, ext. 4474. Observers can also email Slankard at [email protected]
Barn owls are sensitive to disturbance, so if a nest is found, it’s best to leave it alone to avoid attracting attention to it. Researchers are careful to document nests without disturbing the owls.
For the protection of owls and landowners, exact nesting locations and landowner information is strictly confidential and will not be released to the public. Information provided to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife for this study is used for research purposes only.