The Pennsylvania Game Commission is calling on residents to report any dead barn owls they find this spring. It is part of an effort to figure out how to grow their population.
PA Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Biologist Dan Mummert says the state launched a conservation initiative focusing on barn owls in 2005. Since then they have been banding and tracking the owls and none have been found west of Somerset County. “Back in the 80’s there were quite a few barn owl nest sites in Green County and in Fayette County and other western Pennsylvania counties, so that is a good indication of how steeply these barn owls have declined here in Pennsylvania and how the range has really contracted in the state,” says Mummert. The owls are now considered a “species of conservation concern.”
The population of Barn Owls in Pennsylvania has fallen 50-percent in the last 20 years. Mummert says much of the decline can be linked to a loss of habitat. That includes new housing and commercial development and more intense agriculture. “There is much more corn and soybeans here in Pennsylvania compared to 50 years ago when there was more pasture and hay fields, so barn owls and other grassland-associated birds are really declining in the state,” says Mummert. Barn owls feed mostly on meadow vols.
Mummert says this is the time of year that humans are most likely to find a dead barn owl. He says the crusty snow cover in February made it hard for the owls to find enough food, which leads to starvation.
Pennsylvania is also home to screech owls, great horned owls and barred owls. Screech and horned owls are the most common. Barn owls are the only owls in Pennsylvania that have a spotted breast, the rest have stripped markings on their breast. Mummert says the average barn owl stands a foot high but has a 4-foot wingspan.