The owls have hatched! Upon checking the nest box in the barn silo which was placed in March, an adult flushed and flew in a wide circle, gliding on silent wings. It flew over to a nearby stand of trees where a group of crows began to fuss and call, attempting to get it to observe the humans at the silo from another location.
Alan Williams brought a five gallon plastic bucket down from the nest box and inside lay six small dinosaur-like creatures, blinking calmly on their soft towel.
Rolf Gubler (biologist, Shenandoah National Park) and October Greenfield (intern, SNP) assessed their ages with several of the babies recently hatched and older ones already developing flight feathers but with their little pink bodies still covered in wispy white down. The babies develop quickly and by the ninth week after hatching, they are leaving the nest for short periods. They leave for good at about 13 weeks.
In order to keep track of the baby barn owls, Roger Jones, naturalist from Rappahannock County, clipped a tiny metal band around the leg of each baby.
Barn owls fly mostly at night, hunting for small mammals by using their acute hearing. Voles and shrews make up their main diet which they eat whole and then regurgitate the undigestible bones and fur. The female shreds the pellets, creating a soft bed for the eggs which she lays on alternate days. Owls mate for life and demonstrate teamwork when the female takes care of the eggs full time and the male hunts for her, bringing offerings so that she does not have to leave the nest.
In addition to the owl nesting boxes in the silos, Alan Williams placed a kestrel nesting box on a power pole at the crest of the property. One healthy hatchling and one unviable egg were in the box which had been utilized by the female this spring.
Kestrel clutches generally average four to five eggs and the female nests for about one month. Mr. Williams noted that the low number of hatchlings was possibly due to a snake eating some of the eggs or perhaps due to the inexperience of the parents.
The one healthy hatchling received a leg band and will hopefully help create another nesting pair in the vicinity to the EMJ farm.