Local developers the Gore Brothers have been watching a barn owl family in their grandparents’ Chilliwack barn their entire lives.
Tony Gore said the barn has been home to generations of owls since 1940.
Tony now lives out in Rosedale and he found a barn owl in his barn, but it had no nest. So he connected with Chilliwack’s local barn owl expert, Dr. Dick Clegg to find out what to do.
Turns out all a barn owl really needs is a platform up high in a barn and the raptor takes care of the rest.
Tony figured there must be other people like him with a barn that could use a nest and just maybe they could help the threatened species.
So the Gore Brothers are offering to build a next box for anyone with an old barn that wants one.
”We’ve got the manpower because we are in construction,” Tony said. “We are used to dealing heights an building stuff, so it’s kind of up our alley.”
The barn owl, scientific name tyto alba, is a red-listed species in B.C. and is listed as “threatened” under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). The range in all of Canada is almost exclusively in the Lower Mainland and on southern Vancouver Island.
|Dick Clegg prepares to band one of three young owls in a barn in Chilliwack in 2013. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress file)|
Six years ago Clegg talked to The Progress about this very issue. at that time he said the Lower Fraser Valley was home to an estimated 250 to 1,000 adult barn owls, which was most of the population in Canada.
The species had been recently upgraded from of “special concern,” to “threatened,” reflecting a decline in numbers.
Clegg is a veterinarian who has a special hobby interest in barn owls, birds he has been tracking and banding for years in the area. Year over year the numbers of birds can vary greatly due to numerous factors, including clutch size, habitat destruction, and how harsh the winter is.
Two years ago Clegg banded 200 but last year just 89. This year he is hopeful with the numbers.
“For some reason they are having a good year,” he said. “The clutches are large this year. The numbers of babies I’m banding per nest is closer to five and usually it’s about 3.5.”
The biggest threat to the species is habitat destruction and the use of rat poison by farmers and other industrial operations, as well as homeowners. When rodents pick up sub-lethal doses of rodenticide they can then be hunted by owls who then ingest it, sometimes even passing on to young.
“Rat poison is a serious risk to them,” Clegg said.
Part of the problem is those using rodenticides unnecessarily, but there are also certain food production facilities that use it as a mandatory requirement.
Habitat destruction is another threaet. Cutting down trees is negative as is monoculture farm crops.
Native plant pastures or land that isn’t heavily cropped are good, but unfortunately roadsides are also good. That creates another unavoidable risk of getting hit by vehicles as they hunt along the sides of roads.
As for the barn nests, the Gores want to help the population by supplying and installing nesting boxes for free to anyone who wants one.
“If anyone has an old barn or building, they think might work to house a barn owl, Gore Brothers will supply and install a nesting box,” Tony said. “Dr. Clegg would be consulted to determine whether the location would be an appropriate spot.”
Clegg said that while the population may be having a good year this year, the species is threatened and he likes the Gore Brothers’ idea to help get the word out.
“The biggest part that’s good about it is that it might tweak one more level of awareness because that’s what we need,” he said. “We need people to be aware these birds are here. Predators are necessary for the whole biome.”
Anyone looking to get a nesting box for a barn or an old building can contact the Gore Bros. at 604-824-1902 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.