Extirpated Species of Eastern New York – Barn Owl

For as avian rich as Eastern New York is with neotropical species in summer and high arctic visitors in winter, there are a number of species which have been driven out of our area, but are by no means extinct.

The reasons for the extirpation of these species is variable, most likely is either habitat destruction or competition from other species.

The most recent species to leave our region (and some still hold out hope there are a few around, myself included) is Barn Owl.  This species was never very common in the region, but occurred in many areas, from the inner cities to farms.  Now Barn Owl has faced the same issues it has in many areas of the world, mostly being misunderstood by farmers who frequently poisoned them, either unintentionally or intentionally, but I can’t see that as the only reason for their decline.  But for a species that is well adapted to humans, it is somewhat baffling as to why this species declined as quickly as it did, with no solid breeding records since the early 1980’s.  Currently there are efforts by several organizations to improve and create habitat suitable for Barn Owls, particularly in Columbia County, but so far it has not worked.  Barn Owl is a species I believe could be re-introduced into the region, even though a similar effort near Buffalo, NY several years ago was not successful.

Barn Owl distribution from the 1st NYS Breeding Bird Atlas

Barn Owl distribution from the 2nd NYS Breeding Bird Atlas

(Maps Courtesy of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation)

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5 responses to “Extirpated Species of Eastern New York – Barn Owl

  1. In Germany, and I would guess the same applies to North America, Barn Owls are very vulnerable to severe winters, with large-scale population crashes every few years. Their reproduction strategy however is usually enough to compensate such massive losses quickly as they have a very high number of young / brood and may breed several times in good years.
    My guess is (no more than a guess) that even slight decreases in habitat quality that are barely noticable to us, just a little less food/rodents, will easily tip the balance and the gains in the “good years” simply cannot fully compensate the losses in severe winters. If that’s the case, then the owl will gradually, slowly vanish and “retreat” to the South.
    Another problem might then arise in isolated populations: Barn Owls aren’t particularly migratory in Germany (and also the US?), and a local, isolated population will definitely at some point get wiped out by a severe winter, no matter how good the summer habitat is. If however there is not a population nearby that is connected, the area will not easily be re-colonized by the species and even excellent habitat will be empty.
    So, if all these assumptions and guesses are somewhat correct, the protection of Barn Owls would require a large-scale effort, and local protection measures will not likely be of permanent benefit.

    But I may very well be wrong.

    • I think your right in a lot of ways Jochen, BUT what gets me is that the habitat is much better for Barn Owls upstate than on NYC and Western Long Island, where the species is well established. More reliable food source in the City? Maybe. My “gut” guess is that Great Horned Owl has boomed and likely has pushed out medium sized owls out of a lot of areas (Barred Owl, Barn Owl, Long-Eared Owl). Screech and Saw-whets are small enough that they can avoid and thus co-exist with GHOW without much issue. Plus Great Horned Owls have taken a liking to nesting in abandoned structures such a Grain Silohs, barns etc., further reducing opportunities for Barn Owls. Great Horned Owl is pretty rare in NYC and Long Island, meaning Barn Owls face little no avian threats.

      • Sounds good.
        Possibly the proximity to the coast might be another factor as I would guess the area doesn’t get quite as much snow.
        It is more than likely a combination of several factors anyway.

  2. But 20 years ago, Barn Owl was uncommon, but widspread upstate and nearing common on Long Island, then they were gone from upstate and decreased drastically on Long Island. Winters have been less harsh, so something changed in the last 20 years to endanger this species in New York.

  3. I am surprised to know that a pair of owls has found my backyard as a comfortable place to live. I kind of like them but, I am also a bird lover so I am concerned that I may be loosing the lovely birds songs I enjoy listening to each day while having my cup of tea. Do they love water they seem to be hanging around my swimming pool, however I have a lot of hught trees around. May be they like that much (smile). I dont know what type of owls they are but I know they are here all day with the birds chasing them all around. At first I thought the birds were disturbed by stray cats only to realize that I am hosting these beautiful owls. Its kind of fun to watch them. By the way I have taken a few close up picutres. They are right in my backyard most of the time and appeared to be friendly (Kind of sort of).

    Mirth Purdy

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