Thursday, July 24, 2014

Effort to Bring Back Barn Owls

Southern Maryland Audubon, 
Sotterley Plantation
and SMECO 
Collaborate to Bring Back
Barn Owls to St. Mary's County

Are you a Barn Owl looking for a home? Thanks to an array of owl-friendly folks in Hollywood, MD, your housing options just increased.  A brand new Barn Owl Nest Box has been installed on private agricultural land adjacent to the Sotterley Plantation and it is ready for occupancy.

Barn Owls are nocturnal hunters and feed mainly on small mammals like voles and mice as well as small birds found in the fields and marshes. This medium sized owl has a heart-shaped face and screechy scream-like call and was once a common occurrence in St. Mary’s County.  But as farmland has been converted to development, or and fields turned over from fallow grassland to monoculture crops, this particular species of owl has become increasingly scarce in the Eastern United States. It is now listed as a Species of Concern in Maryland by the Department of Natural Resources due to the all time low numbers.

 photo courtesy of Mike Callahan

Now, thanks to the wildlife partnership collaboration of the Southern Maryland Audubon Society (SMAS), the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO), and Historic Sotterley, Inc., as well as Sotterley's  generous neighbor and landowner, the welcome mat has been laid out in St. Mary’s County for the next generation of Barn Owls.  SMAS has been working for several years to reverse the owl’s decline by placing Barn Owl nesting boxes on poles and barns in the bird’s historic breeding range here in Southern Maryland.  “We are currently unaware of any active breeding pairs in St. Mary’s County,” said Mike Callahan, Raptor Conservation Chairman for SMAS, who is directing the effort. “Several nesting boxes in Charles County have been active this year, and just three weeks ago a pair of Barn Owls successfully hatched young ones in a box on St. Leonard’s Creek in Calvert County. This all gives us hope that we will soon be able to confirm Barn Owl breeding success in St. Mary’s County too,” concluded Callahan.

The new box adjacent to Sotterley was donated by SMAS, and its siting was facilitated by SMAS and Sotterley member David Moulton. Moulton gained the necessary permissions and worked with Joe Goldsmith and staff of the Sotterley Plantation as to complete the installation.  One critical component was the willingness of Southern Maryland Electric (SMECO) to donate its time, equipment and expertise to setting up the pole to which the nesting box is bolted.

“This nesting box was made possible by the generosity of many folks,” noted Moulton. “Thanks are due particularly to the manager of the site, Richard Knott, to SMECO’s professional team, and to Joe Goldsmith and Historic Sotterley, Inc.  We will all be celebrating the day a pair of Barn Owls takes advantage of these new digs,” he said.

The stellar team from SMECO

The Sotterley maintenance crew with the new Barn Owl box

For more information, contact Mike Callahan at   
or David Moulton at or 240-278-4473

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