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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Barn Owl Banding in Barto, PA

Game Commission officer holding the male Barn Owl
     Sharon and I made the trip to Barto, PA to see the banding of Barn Owls on a local farmer's property in Berks County. The Game Commission has been installing barn owl boxes throughout several counties in southeastern and south central Pennsylvania. The owls are nesting in a double silo where one of the boxes had been placed, but the farmer/owner says the Barn Owls have been nesting there for about twenty years. The game commission says there is another new location about a mile from this site thanks to the new nest box. 

Silos which contain Barn Owl family
      Originally the field trip was suppose to be limited to 25 people but Rick Wiltraut, the organizer of the trip, couldn't turn anyone down who requested to participate. There were actually just over 100 people present. 

Some of the 100 plus participants present

      We were fortunate tonight because the volunteers who climbed the silo to retrieve the birds were able to capture both adult birds along with the four young. We could see the difference in the male, which was very white under the wings, and the female which had a lot of spotting and darker feathering on the underside of her wings. 
Male Barn Owl

       Since the Barn Owl lays its eggs over a several day period and incubates them from the start, the young birds are hatched at various times so there are different age birds in the nest. If the youngest birds in a very large clutch don't get enough food from the parents then they will perish and become food for the other nestling.  During the banding process, a feather is extracted and DNA testing will be done on the feather. This will show if the owls that are nesting here now are the same parents from last year or if a new bird has joined the family because last years parent has died. 
Seven week old owl

Five week old owl
      Banding is important to the study of owls and birds in general. Some of the young owls that the game commission have banded in the past have shown up as far away as North Carolina. But the majority of the recaptured owls usually travel around fifty miles to find a new nest site. 
      The banding experience was fun and educational and it was good to see that so many people were interested in the birds. 
      After we left the owl site we made a quick trip to find Blue Grosbeak and Dickcissel in northern Montgomery County. We met up with Dustin Welsh and managed to find both birds along with Bobolinks in the high meadows. It was a very interesting, albeit hot, evening but well worth the effort. 

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