by Stephanie Smith
September 29, 2017
Marion Clement and Chris Snow, left, band juvenile barn owls at Monie Bay in Somerset County, Maryland, on June 15, 2017. Along with Otter Point Creek in Harford County and Jug Bay in Anne Arundel County, Monie Bay is a component of Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Barn owls are year-round residents of the Chesapeake Bay region, especially in rural areas like grasslands, hayfields and marshes, like those found at Monie Bay. The large swaths of open land allow the birds to hunt successfully. And hunt they do—during a barn owl’s approximately 10-year lifespan, one bird can eat somewhere in the range of 11,000 mice, making the raptors an asset to farms and other rural properties.
However, in recent decades, populations of barn owls have declined dramatically across the country. While not federally listed as endangered, barn owls are a species of concern in several watershed states, including Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Experts believe several factors have led to the bird’s decline. First is a loss of habitat: barn owls are rarely found in fields covered in row crops, so when open grasslands are converted to corn and soybean fields, the owls’ hunting grounds are lost. In addition, the use of rodenticides can in turn affect barn owls; the birds can consume mice that have been poisoned and become sick or even die themselves.
Apart from limiting pesticide and rodenticide use, land conservation is one of the top ways to help support barn owls, by protecting the prairies and marshes the birds use to hunt. And barn owl nesting programs, like those at Monie Bay, not only provide habitat for young owls but also give researchers the ability to track the recovery of barn owl populations.
Learn more about barn owls.