By Chelsea RichardsonThe Barn Owl is the most widely distributed species of owl and the most widespread. It is also referred to as the Common Barn Owl, but in Michigan, the Barn Owl is anything but “common”. The last pair of breeding barn owls was seen in the state in 1983 with the last single Barn Owl seen in 2000.
Barn Owls are medium sized owls with long legs that are sparsely feathered down to their black talons. They are grey, light brown and some are purer, darker brown and all have fine black-and-white speckles. The white face with its heart shape and its black eyes give the flying bird an odd and startling appearance, like a flat mask with oversized oblique black eyeslits, the ridge of feathers above the bill somewhat resemble a nose.
The Barn Owl does not hoot like most “typical” owls, instead it produces a rasping scream, ear-shattering at close range. When males are courting a female, they make a shrill repetitive twittering and a hiss like a snake to scare away intruders.
In late May, a Coopersville resident found an injured male Barn Owl on the floor of her barn. She brought it into the Blandford Nature Center where they noticed that he was unable to hold himself up or keep his eyes open; he was in bad shape.
Owls’ heart rates are faster than the human heart rate because they have a faster metabolism, but this Barn Owl’s heart rate was so low that wildlife program coordinator Lori Martin could count his heartbeats. Dr. Rebecca Vincent, Blandford’s resident veterinarian thought that this bird exhibited signs of neurological damage, possibly due to West Nile virus or poisoning. It was then found that rat poison was making this bird sick.
Throughout these past weeks, the owl has been recovering. He is on a fluid and feeding regimen and has physical therapy and has started regaining the use of his legs. He has also started to become more vocal. When the Blandford staff first took him in he barely made any noise.
It is now just a matter of time before anyone can tell if he can be released back into the wild. That is the ultimate goal for Blandford Nature Center, but if this ends up not being the case, they are going to be adding him to Blandford’s family of birds of prey and reptiles. He will either live among the center’s wildlife trails, or go to schools to educate kids about endangered species.
To keep up with the Barn Owl’s progress, visit the Blandford Nature Center’s blog.