Today is World Animal Day. With this post we want to arise public awareness about ecological and environmental role of one special species and contribute in their protection.
Birds of prey are important in the ecological balance; they scavenge and dispose of carrion, control rodent populations, and eat various pests that are harmful to crops. Owls that feed in agricultural areas provide benefits to humans by killing large numbers of small rodents which might otherwise eat crops in the field or in storage.
Barn owl (Tyto alba)
Barn Owls are specialist birds and highly adapted to suit their ecological role as hunters of small mammals in open habitat and low light conditions. Although small mammals are taken by a wide range of predators including buzzards, kestrels, cats, stoats and weasels (as well as other owls), none of these hunt in the same way as Barn Owls. The barn owl has exceptionally keen hearing and eyesight, making it a very effective hunter. It is said that a Barn Owl can actually hear a mouse’s heartbeat in a 30ft sq room.
Barn Owls are birds of open countryside. They typically forage by flying low over grassland habitat with frequent “hovering intervals” or by perching on fence posts and trees along field edges Barn Owls are found in open country such as agricultural areas, old fields and orchards, yet have a preference for pasture, sedge marshes and meadows. Prior to European settlement, Barn Owl habitat likely consisted of oak savannah adjacent to tallgrass prairie.
The Barn Owl’s diet consists primarily of small mammals, with a distinct preference for voles (Microtus spp.), shrews, moles, young rats, various species of mice, and occasionally birds, or frogs and large insects only if necessary. Estimates of adult food intake range from about 50 to 150 g/day, which is equivalent to 1–3 voles per day. It is estimated that a typical family of two adult and four young Barn Owls consumes about 1000 rodents during the 10-week portion of the year when young are in the nest.
Every Barn Owl’s home range is likely to contain a variety of predators that eat small mammals but none of these have an identical diet or hunting method. Although there is a good deal of overlap between species, there’s little direct competition because the Barn Owl’s ecological role is so unique.
Be aware that …
These helpful birds are, unfortunately, especially susceptible to extinction, partly because of natural evolutionary selection and partly because of human interference. Owls are, however, threatened by other activities of humans. They are exposed to toxic chemicals in forestry and agriculture, and this has taken a toll on some species of owls. One example is poisoning by exposure to the insecticide carbofuran, which is used to control epidemic populations of grasshoppers in prairie agriculture.
More important, however, have been the effects of habitat loss on owls. Urban, industrial, and agricultural development all degrade the habitat of most species of owls and other native species, causing large reductions in their populations and even their disappearance from many areas.
We are happy that in Macedonia there is organization which is taking care for the owl’s survival in the nature, preservation of their nests, offspring and hunting grounds. The purpose of organization Macedonian Owl Trust is to facilitate the enlargement of the number of owls in our country by organizing activities for: mounting birds houses for nesting, implementation of monitoring of all recorded nests, feeding and tending of young owls with aim having them leave the nest in larger numbers.
If you want to help, too, now is the right time. This organization is in preparation for construction of houses for nesting which will be placed at various locations in the environment and help at preserving and increasing the number of endangered owls. You can donate wood materials (wooden boards or plywood) and tools and contribute in this process. You can find more information on Macedonian Owl Trust page.