Rural Missouri - December 2010 - (Page 10)

F by Jason Jenkins rom their shadowy perches high in the hayloft, eight pairs of piercing black eyes peer down on the strangers below. These creatures, with their ghostly white faces, bob their heads up and down and side to side, trying to get a better look at their new surroundings. For the next few days, these eight barn owls will be guests of James and Jean Priday inside the couple’s nearly 100-year-old dairy barn just south of Fredericktown. Here, they’ll be fed mice and provided safety from predators. Then, when the time comes, they’ll be allowed to leave for a life on their own in the wild. It’s a bittersweet departure for the owl innkeepers, but James and Jean know their efforts have helped bolster a species once considered endangered in the Show-Me State. For almost five years, the couple has partnered with the World Bird Sanctuary to serve as a release site for barn owls hatched at the Valley Park facility. Currently, the Priday’s 250-acre cattle farm is the only place in Missouri where the sanctuary releases its owls. “We’ve always been bird lovers,” Jean says. “We put out hummingbird feeders in the summer and feeders for all the birds during the winter. We try to keep as many birds around the place as we can, and this seemed like a natural thing for us to do.” The Black River Electric Cooperative members didn’t turn their old dairy barn into the biggest James Priday holds a barn owl hatched in captivity at the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park. He and his wife, Jean, birdcage in Madison County on a whim, however. have helped the organization release barn owls from their farm in Madison County, strengthening the bird’s numbers. The couple learned about the World Bird Sanctuary’s need for host families after attending one of the organization’s presentations on birds of prey. A few phone calls later, they received a visit from Jeff Meshach, the sanctuary’s assistant director. Created in 1977, the World Bird Sanctuary is one of North America’s largest facilities for the conservation of birds. In addition to offering public educational programs and conducting field studies, the organization rehabilitates roughly 250 injured birds of prey each year, including hawks, owls and eagles. Its propagation department also breeds many raptor species, including barn owls. a few days. While in the barn, James feeds the habitat is the key for the barn owl’s “We have raised and released barn owls in Misowls mice every day and provides them water. success, Jeff says. While a barn doesn’t souri since 1981,” Jeff says, adding that in the early “Basically, this barn is going to be ‘mothneed to be old to appeal to barn owls, to mid-1980s, the sanctuary worked with the Miser,’” Jeff says. “We want the barn owls to it does need to be in an area where they souri Department of Conservation (MDC) to release understand that they get fed in here. So if can hunt small rodents like mice and voles. birds in St. Charles and Perry counties. “Since then, they need to come back, if things aren’t “They like big, wide open expanses we’ve released more than 900 barn owls. We’ve re• going well for them in the wild, they of grasslands, with trees here and there, leased 18 of those here with James and Jean.” Fredericktown know that they got fed in here.” and barns here and there for nesting in,” While the barn owl, sometimes called the “ghost After the birds are allowed to fly he says. “James’ place is great. He’s got owl,” is one of the most common owl species found away, James continues to put out mice adjoining farms around the world — livfor several more days in case an owl would return, here on both sides of ing on every continent but that hasn’t happened yet. Highway 67 that make except Antarctica — its The typical lifespan for a wild barn owl in Misreally good habitat.” status in Missouri was souri is only one to two years. Horner says that exIn order to serve as less certain until recently. tensive clearing of bottomland forest for agriculture a host for barn owls, Thanks to efforts to in southeast Missouri in recent years has opened up James and Jean had to stabilize its population, a new niche for barn owls, increasing populations in completely enclose their including the World Bird that part of the state. She says installing nest boxes hayloft with wire mesh Sanctuary’s release profor barn owls also has been beneficial. to ensure that the owls gram, the barn owl was The ultimate goal of hacking barn owls at the Pricouldn’t get out — and removed from the state’s day farm is to establish a nesting pair nearby. When nothing else could get in. endangered species list that occurs, Jeff says the sanctuary will need to find “Barn owls are preyed in 2008. It continues to a new release site, as the nesting barn owls could upon by great horned receive protection under potentially kill others released in their territory. owls,” Jeff says. “We also the federal Migratory Bird But until then, James and Jean continue to serve need to keep out racTreaty Act. as innkeepers for the owls. No matter the length of coons and opossums.” “There are a total the owls’ stay, whether a few days or a few weeks, The process of taking of 84 known nesting the couple is always thrilled for the time they get to a bird hatched in captivindividuals around the spend with this secretive raptor. ity and releasing it into state,” says Peggy Horner, “They’re the prettiest birds I think I’ve ever seen, the wild is known as MDC’s endangered speand not many people get to see them,” says James. “hacking.” The length of cies coordinator, noting “It just makes me feel good to know that we’re helpthis process for the owls the state still considers ing these birds get a good start on life in the wild.” released at the Priday the bird “vulnerable” on farm is determined by its checklist of species of The World Bird Sanctuary will consider other sites for the birds’ age. Younger conservation concern. To order a print of this photo, see page 29. barn owl releases in Missouri. Those interested may conbirds may remain con“The barn owl was probtact Jeff Meshach at fined to the barn for a ably never very common From their hayloft enclosure, two barn owls get their or 636-861-3225. For plans to build a nesting box for few weeks; older birds are in Missouri.” first glimpse of their new home. After five days in the barn owls, visit and search “owl box.” ready to venture out after As often is the case, barn, the owls were allowed to go free in the wild. Fredericktown couple offers barn owls a place to stay as they transition to a life in the wild 10 RURAL MISSOURI

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - December 2010

Rural Missouri - December 2010
Lester Dent
The Owl Innkeepers
Mail Bag
Out of the Way Eats
Best of Rural Missouri
Hearth and Home
News Briefs
Just Claus
Too Good to Be True?
Around Missouri

Rural Missouri - December 2010