There’s a terrific new project being started in Loudoun Valley High School through environmental sciences teacher, Liam McGranaghan, and I thought it’d be great to share information on it with you now as well as post updates later as the students get rolling. With the many farms still active throughout Loudoun, we have a great opportunity here to not only learn more about these wonderful birds but also help them survive into the future.
Barn Owls are a species of concern in Virginia and many areas of the United States. Wildlife biologists believe one of the principle factors for their decline is the lack of adequate nesting places. Barn owls are well adapted to human structures and many use old barns and particularly old silos to nest and raise young.
Unfortunately, old silos are not always safe structures to raise owlets, especially if the silo allows access by nest predators such as raccoons. By locating silos in Loudoun County that may serve as possible nest sites for barn owls, researchers can visit those silos to determine their potential for breeding owls.
For silos that have potential, but may be unsafe for nesting owls, it may be possible to modify the silo to make them usable. This can be done by sealing open doors on the silo and/or placing nest boxes strategically in the silo to deter nest predators.
The goal of LVHS environmental students is three fold. First, is to locate potential Barn owl nesting silos in Loudoun County using Google Earth. Secondly, once silos sites have been located, the students will visit these silos to determine their potential for nesting.
Because owl roosting and nesting is very sensitive, the students will be given full instruction on how to approach a silo and care that must be taken in order to not disturb any owls using the structures that they investigate. The greatest concern and priority is for the welfare of the owls and this will be emphasized to the students in their training.
Students will determine the quality of the site by using a rating rubric. Finally, students will bolster barn owl populations through community outreach (Educating local landowners) and by obtaining permission, correct deficiencies in potential barn owl nesting silos that allow access by nest predators.
All Barn owls chicks born in these silos will be banded with a USFWS band. Data gathered during the study will also be supplied to the Virginia Department of Game and Fisheries and to Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy for the Loudoun County Bird Atlas.