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What Is This? Barn Owls
June 30, 2016 | Filed under: Island Science and tagged with: Barn Owls, Island Science, Maria IN THIS ISSUE
Mitchell Association, nature
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~ by Katherine Brooks Maria Mitchell Association ~ Still Exceeding

Expectations
Have you heard a piercing shriek in the night accompanied by a flurry of
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white light? Although it sounds like the making of a summercamp ghost
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story, what you might be observing is the barn owl unique in its
aesthetics with a white belly, heart-shaped face, hairless legs, and Four More Chances to

unmistakable screech. It does not hoot as many owls do but instead See TWN Play
makes short and shrill screams, hisses, and clicks. Its an unmistakable
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sound.
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And perhaps you have noticed big wooden boxes sitting about ten-feet up 2016 Photo Contest

in a tree in your neighbors yard or around Nantucket? These boxes are Annual Harvest Fair at
makeshift barns, or cavity nests for barn owls.
the Old Mill

Nantucket is the northernmost habitat that the barn owls migrate to due A True Nantucket

to the snow and cold. The barn owl loses heat because its legs have little Tragedy
feathering. Thus, the boxes that you see around the island are designed to Nantuckets Guided
keep out the elements and are built large enough for the owls to rear
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their young in a place of shelter and protection. Although the island has
few predators; crows, severe cold, and rodents infected with rat poison Nantucket
are the biggest killers of this species. Nantucket is home to five species of
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owls but only two species, including the barn owl, breed here. Andrew
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McKenna-Foster, the Director of Natural Sciences at the Maria Mitchell
Association, explains that tracking what is happening with the populations Yesterdays
now, might help provide information that is useful for the future. Island/Todays
McKenna-Foster states, The more species you have, the more stable your
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ecosystem its good to have different types of owls, and we want to keep
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this population around.
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The barn owls are efficient
hunters and act as rodent
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control, eating both mice and voles. With ears that are placed slightly DEPARTMENT
differently on each side of the head, the barn owl has excellent hearing; Exploring Nantucket
frayed feathers designed for silent flight; and with impeccable night
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vision, the barn owl is an unsullied hunter. Ginger Andrews, the Maria
Mitchell Associations Field Ornithologist, has observed a barn owl eating Featured Entrepreneur

almost nine mice for one meal. The mice end up regurgitated as owl Featured Restaurants
pellets (a combination of bones and fur) and provide a nest-like covering
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on the floor of the box. Barn owls have two broods a year, laying seven to
nine eggs a brood. The ability of these owls to hunt and proliferate helps Island Cooking

combat the mortality rates of winter, but it is the barn owl boxes that keep Island Science
the population rates steady and help scientist at the Maria Mitchell
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Association learn more about these owls and their habits.
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With more than forty boxes on the Island and most of them registered as Entertaining

part of the research program, the boxes allow scientist at the Maria Nantucket Essays
Mitchell Association to track and compile data on the owls. Andrews and
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ornithologist, Bob Kennedy, visit the boxes twice during the summer to
record data on the already tagged owls and to band new owls with an Nantucket History &

aluminum band or bracelet issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Each People
individual band is marked with a number for tracking and is placed Nantucket Style
around the owls ankle. The bands stay on for life but do not affect or
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harm the owl. By visiting the barn owl boxes and banding the owls, the
scientist at the Maria Mitchell Association are able to learn more
information about mortality rates, habitat patterns, and population. This LIKE US ON
last year, the Maria Mitchell Association banded fourteen young and two FACEBOOK

adults.
The first barn owls on Nantucket were noticed in 1960. Before the boxes, ARTICLES BY DATE

the barn owls were found nesting in old silos, or to the dismay of a newly FROM 2012
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married couple at the Seacliff Inn, above the Bridal Suite. Since then, the
2012
addition of the boxes, diligent research, and dedicated scientists, has
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helped Nantucket become a repository of local knowledge. One of the first
scientists observing the owls was Andrews mother, Edith Folger Andrews.
ARTICLES 2007-
When asked what her favorite bird was, Andrews mother used to say,
2011
The one I am looking at.
2007-2011 Featured

If you too want to see, observe, or be part of the barn owl research effort, Articles

you might consider installing a barn owl box. For more information on the 2007-2011 Island
barn owl box program, call the Maria Mitchell Association at 508-228- Science
9198. Whether or not you have a barn owl box, you can still observe and
2007-2011 Nantucket
enjoy the diverse bird species that Nantucket has to offer by joining
Ginger Andrews on an Early-Bird Bird Walk at the Maria Mitchell Essays

Association. Or, visit the Hinchman House Natural Science Museum to see 2007-2011 Nantucket
the inside of a functioning barn owl box.
Island Cooking

2010 Nantucket Island


The MMA was founded in 1902 to preserve the legacy of Maria Mitchell
and to promote her belief in learning-by-doing. An astronomer and Memories

natural scientist, as well as an educator, Maria Mitchell shot to worldwide Archived Nantucket
fame when she discovered a comet in 1846. For her discovery, she was
Articles 2007 2011
awarded a gold medal from the King of Denmark the first American and
first woman to receive the honor. She served as the Professor of
Astronomy and Mathematics at Vassar College from 1865 until 1888.
Today, the MMA operates two observatories, a natural science museum,
an aquarium, and the birthplace of Maria Mitchell. The MMA conducts
scientific research, leads classes and workshops for people of all ages
year-round, and welcomes thousands of visitors to its museums and
observatories. For details, visit www.mariamitchell.org.

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