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This Week’s Creature Feature: An Owl for the Season

Whooo is the ghost owl?
       The barn owl has developed a very interesting relationship with humans. They so commonly borrow human constructions that the habit is reflected in their name. As well as barns, they are frequently found in other buildings, including church steeples. The appearance of the pale bird near cemeteries gives them the nickname Ghost Owl.
      The big owls are almost worldwide. Among the five sub-species, there is very little difference. All have wingspans of about three feet and have a flat pale face rimmed in yellow. Their backs and wings are a light brown with light and dark speckles. Females are more colorful and speckled than the male. All seem to relate to human habitations. 
      The owls that live in the South Pacific and in Great Britain hunt during the day; in that they are unique. Locally they are nocturnal. Each owl is estimated to eat 3,000 rodents a year. Unlike other owls, they nest throughout the year; they can have two broods a year. The birds partner for life and take another partner only if the first dies. It seems that the males do the choosing.
      The population in Maryland has been in trouble. According to Maryland Department of Natural Resources, “Barn owl occurrences have declined dramatically in Maryland. Population declines have also been observed in the Midwest as well as in other eastern states. Reasons for the decline may be due to the reductions in open grasslands preferred by barn owls, increased use of rodenticides and/or loss of nesting habitat.”
     In Chesapeake Country, effort has been made to put owl boxes up on barns and to encourage landowners to stop using long-acting rodenticides. It now appears that the birds are making a modest comeback. Hopefully, the progress will continue.