In recent weeks, Dan Mummert has been here twice to assess the welfare of the American Kestrels and Barn Owls that use our nest boxes. Both of these species are in decline in PA and are considered sensitive species. With that being the case, they are being studied and monitored by the PA Game Commission. The good news is that here on the fruit farm, they are consistently attracted to our nest boxes and successfully hatch young every year. Dan attaches ID bands to the fledglings to aid in studying and tracking these species.
Both of these species have significant benefit to the orchardist because they prey on voles that can damage or kill fruit trees. Depending on the size, a family of barn owls can catch and eat 15-20 voles every night. That's over 500 voles in a season!
In addition to these two species, orchard worker David has sighted another bird of prey in decline, the Northern Harrier.
A few notes of interest...
- Though not necessarily in decline throughout their entire distribution area, Barn Owls and American Kestrels are in decline in PA..
- An owl (not a barn owl) is featured on a PA DMV special fund license plate about conserving wild resources
- Barn owls hunt at night mostly by hearing. Their bowl shaped faces act just like one of those whisper dishes at the science center, effectively gathering sound waves and directing them to the ears. Their ears are at the edge of the bowl shape and are slightly asymmetrical to help them triangulate to determine the exact location of their prey. They have some of the best hearing ability of any animal tested. They can even hear voles underneath the snow and attack through the snow. Juvenile mortality in the winter is often a result when a crust forms on top of the snow because their body weight is not sufficient to penetrate the crust.
- We find many owl pellets outside of the owl nest boxes. Picking one of these apart can be a wonderful learning experience, as you can easily distinguish the bones and fur of their prey.
- A full clutch of owlets can keep both parents busy all night in order to keep them well fed. Each owlet can eat up to three voles per night.
- The owls make a skin-prickling, hair-raising, raspy shriek when then are upset and agitated.
- Dan Mummert of the PA Game Commission monitors many nesting sites in his region of PA. This year, the barn owls in our barn are one of only a few active nest sites that he knows of in his region.
- Orchards are an excellent habitat for barn owls because two species of voles love to live in orchards and feed on apple trees. They are the pine vole and the meadow vole.
- American Kestrels are a beautiful bird. The males are very similar in appearance to a Peregrine Falcon, only smaller.
- We love to hear of others who are building and installing barn owl boxes and kestrel boxes!
Other species of interest that have been spotted on our farm, mostly by David Lantz, one of our employees:
Golden Crowned Kinglet