2011-03-03 / Local & State

Starving Winter For Pa. Barn Owls

By Chad Smith

STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP) – Barn owls in Pennsylvania have had a difficult time foraging for food this winter. And the Pennsylvania Game Commission, in an effort to keep track of the nocturnal predators and prevent them from becoming endangered, is urging people to report any dead barn owls they might have recently seen.

Barn owls, which mostly hunt mice and are common in Pennsylvania, have had a difficult time capturing prey this winter because snow has remained on the ground for weeks and has an icy cover to it.

This type of precipitation offers mice more cover and makes hunting them harder for barn owls.

“Winters like these can really take their toll on wildlife,’’ said Brian Hardiman, an environmental educator at the Monroe County Conservation District.

Hardiman said a woman who came to the conservation district this winter said that an owl was hanging out near her bird feeder in the middle of the afternoon trying to catch small birds that showed up to the feeder.

Owls don’t usually eat small birds and they almost never hunt during the day.

“This owl was starving to death. This is pretty serious,’’ Hardiman said.

Barn owls, which have distinctive round, all-white faces, are often found in grasslands and open fields but have also been known to take up residence in barns and abandoned silos.

They are considered a species of “special concern’’ in Pennsylvania, as their numbers have dropped in recent years.

The game commission has made preserving barn owls a priority, including them in a comprehensive plan that seeks to preserve native wildlife and their habitats.

By tracking the owls’ movements and understanding the conditions that precipitate their deaths, the commission hopes to come up with ways to better preserve them.

Anyone who has seen a dead barn owl, or any kind of dead owl, should call the local game commission office. The game commission’s northeastern office’s phone number is 570-675-1143.

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