The last several nights a fledgling barn owl (Tyto alba) has been sitting in the cottonwood trees next to our bedroom window. This young owl is the oldest of the five barn owls hatched in our barn this season (Lookout CA). It sits on a branch and makes a chittering sound (OK, I cannot describe bird sounds!) throughout the night. I can imagine various meanings to these calls – I want some food! Why are you leaving me here! Where are you, Mom? You expect ME to catch a vole? Is it time to go back into the barn yet? Most likely none are right, however, it is fun to speculate.
In an earlier post I showed pictures of four owlets in our barn and thought there was a fifth in the nest bucket that I could not see. Yes! There were five babies this year. That is the largest number of owls we ever had hatch. That large number of hatchlings likely is correlated with the abundance of food. The bull snakes are huge and numerous, the hawks are active and even our cats are bringing in more mice and voles than usual. There is plenty for the owls to eat.
Currently I can find four of the five baby owls in the barn. The fifth (the third one to leave the nest) could be hidden amid the hay bales. In an effort to not disturb the owls any more than necessary I do not search too closely amid the hay. Hopefully this baby owl is camera shy and will eventually show itself.
This is the oldest owl, and the one that, I believe, keeps us company outside the window at night. It is sitting on a hay-fork (an old method of bringing hay into the barn) hanging below the ridgepole. On close scrutiny a little bit of down can still be seen, especially right below the head. The owls can make a mess on the barn walls!
Owlet number two was sitting on a beam in the stall area of the barn. This beam is only ten feet or so above the floor. I go into the barn and take pictures every couple of days. The parents are so accustomed to me that they no longer respond to my presence - just watch me. This little owl also was not concerned when I walked directly under him/her.
The fourth and fifth chicks to hatch (the eggs are laid over several days and they hatch in order over approximately the same period of time it took to lay them) remain in the nest. The one is probably large enough to leave the nest and I likely will find it on the floor or a beam the next time I check on the owls.
I am so happy to have six barn owls. It will not be long before all six (maybe even seven) are venturing out to hunt at night. I love to watch them as they silently leave the barn at dusk and return like ghosts in the early dawn. Before long the young owls will all leave and the parents will have the barn to themselves until next season – unless they decide to have a second brood this year. Could we be so lucky??