When the farmer called me the other morning, I was away from home. He said he had two juvenile Barn Owls sleeping near his barn. My wife and I finally arrived at the Amish farm two miles from our home. The owls were still in the same place. Both were still sound asleep despite being only a few yards from a busy highway.
The owls had recently fledged from their nest box in the farmer’s barn. Rather than be disturbed by their younger siblings, still too young to fly, each owl found a personal, private spot to snooze. This one chose a silver maple tree in the farmer’s yard. The afternoon sun highlighted its breast feathers and some of the tree’s leaves.
Recently, I had a couple of days that were exactly that. I helped out a friend by leading a few birding field trips to a local farm.
The target birds were young Barn Owls, a couple of fuzzy baby American Kestrels, and bubbly Bobolinks. In a rather rare situation, both Barn Owls and Kestrels had hatched their young in nesting boxes the farmer had erected in his old bank barn. The meadow across the road remained uncut so the tinkling Bobolinks could frolic and flourish.
The farmer and his family went out of their way to accommodate both the birds and us. Their farmstead was neat as a pin. Flower beds and gardens were nearly pristine. The three generations that called this place home welcomed us with open arms and hearts.
Both the farm’s setting and the intentional agricultural techniques employed accounted for the diversity of birds and other wildlife. Surrounded by rounded hills dotted with emerald woodlots, the land rolled away from the farm buildings more like waves than fields.
I imagined in a birdseye view a quilted panorama. Broad patches of variegated greens and tans from forested hills, alternating fields of pasture and croplands stitched together by brushy fencerows created a pastoral patterned effect.
Such a landscape also enhanced the desired habitats and food sources needed for the various avian species. It was obvious the farmer, typical of many in our area, understood the balance between conservation and productivity. Sad to say, some deem that approach as inefficient or even old-fashioned.
The days were precious in so many ways. Cottony clouds hung in salient skies over windswept grasses nearly as tall as the weathered wooden fence posts that delineated their boundaries.
The meadow’s high grasses mingled with seedy weeds, and wildflowers danced in the wind beneath while the Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Song and Savannah Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds let loose. The birds’ melodious chorus easily drew the attention and appreciation of each group. All the birders, spanning three generations, thought the birds and their songs beautiful and luxurious.
(Click on the photos to enlarge them.)
Killdeer near nest.
Up the ladder.
Baby Barn Owls.
Though he said he wasn’t a birder, the kind farmer had erected nesting boxes in his ancient barn for the owls. That is what attracted folks from near and far for this special chance to view the birds. It was indeed rare to have both owls and falcons nesting in the same barn.
Participants hailed from cities. Others lived nearby. Their ages ranged from preschoolers to octogenarians. A courageous woman on crutches in the midst of cancer treatments even ventured forth. I drew strength from their enthusiasm.
Atop wobbly ladders, we viewed the baby birds one by one through a pencil-sized peephole drilled in the plywood boxes made by students at a local vocational school. A small, square hole cut into the barn siding permitted the adults to enter and exit to feed their young.
Below, hushed conversations ensued in each group. Sunlight streamed through the intentional spaces between the horizontal clapboards. Still the barn was dark and steamy.
No one complained whatsoever. All realized what a privilege it was to view the birds and enjoy the genial hospitality of this marvelous family who welcomed all of God’s creatures.
These glorious days were definitely for the birds, obviously in a juxtaposed sense. The smiles on the faces of all the birders declared each visit a joyous success. None of us could have asked for more.
I recently served as a guide to a local Amish farm that had an active Barn Owl nest. It was one of several in the Holmes County, Ohio area. For the most part, the Amish are very respectful towards wildlife, especially birds. They fully understand what a gift it is to have Barn Owls around. The owls help control the rodent population.
Certified naturalist and speaker, Chuck Jakubchak, accompanied me on the field trip. After everyone had viewed the trio of young Barn Owls in their nesting box through a peephole, Chuck suggested I get a picture of the owls. I certainly didn’t want to stress the young birds, so he lifted the top of the box just enough for me to take this photograph. Of course, the owls hissed and bobbed, their natural defense mechanisms, for the few seconds that it took me to snap the shutter. We left the young owls in peace.
The morning sun streamed through the entrance to the nesting box, and an east breeze fluffed up their downy feathers. This was the only picture that I took, and I wanted to share it with all of you.
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