Sunday, August 22, 2004

Threatened barn owls near a record for chicks, nests



The Associated Press

A threatened species appears to be bouncing back. Ohio's barn owls are approaching all-time highs for chicks and nests this year, according to the state's Division of Wildlife.

Tom Henry, a division biologist, said the owls have raised 160 chicks at 48 nests in Ohio this year. The record number for chicks is 198, and 49 for nests. The birds set those records in 2001.

This year's number could still climb as some of the birds lay a second set of eggs, with chicks hatched through late August, Henry said.

Five nests have been found in Highland, Preble and Adams counties in Southwest Ohio. Kathy Shipley, a wildlife biologist with the Division of Wildlife, said a mild winter and wet spring has probably led to the high number of nests. The state has been able to help the owls recover by putting up more than 200 nesting boxes across the state.

"That's the best we've had in quite a few years," Shipley said of the Southwest Ohio population of barn owls.

The birds live in barns and silos and eat rodents that live in meadows and pastures. They were not found in Ohio until the mid-1800s, when forests were cleared for farming.

As the number of Ohio farms dropped, barn owls lost habitat. Farming methods shrank meadows, so the owls' prey disappeared. Predators, humans and harsh winters killed the birds.

Barn owls became a state endangered species in 1990, when the population dwindled to just 17 pairs. The state has been working since 1988 to boost their numbers with nesting boxes.

The population has increased, and wildlife officials hope it will continue. In 2002, the barn owl was moved to Ohio's less-severe list of threatened species.

"These animals are a vital part of our ecosystem," Henry said. "Installation of artificial nest boxes in areas of quality foraging habitat, coupled with mild winter weather, contributed to greater survival of adult owls and increased owl productivity."

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Enquirer reporter Dan Klepal contributed.




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