Two years ago our Barn Owl nest had a predation disaster. We lost 6 of the 8 eggs and only 1 of those survived to fledging (flying out of the nest). That one surviving owlet hid at the back of the box cowering until it fledged. Clearly, it had witnessed something terrifying. That was the first time we had predation problems on our owls. We suspect a Barred Owl had invaded as I heard one calling close to the barn that year.
Last year our owls only laid two eggs, far as we could tell. Both fledged. That was way below their usual. I have hand-written records with the data we have kept on the owl nests since we started keeping records in 2004: number of eggs laid (when I know), number hatched, number fledged and dates. They have laid anywhere from 2 to 9 eggs, with 7 the usual number. They have fledged anywhere from 1 to 7 with 4 the usual number. I am trying to get all this data onto a spreadsheet but I am slow.
When the owls begin to come out of their dark nest box and onto the ledge where they can be seen from outside the barn, we invite people to come watch them at dusk as they beg and their parents bring them prey. We do not invite people to come before that because we do not want to stress the owlets and their parents. People are predators as far as Barn Owls are concerned. However, since we feed hay out of the loft morning and night, the owls grow accustomed to us and do not panic when we occasionally climb the ladder to check on them. Once in awhile I shine a flashlight off to the side, so not directly at the owls, and take a photo. The photos are pretty pathetic because of the conditions.
To set the scene, below are photos of the ladder going up to the loft that one must climb first...
Here is a closer view of the stairs and nest box. The tarp below has been over a stack of hay which has now been fed to the goats. Not much hay left in the loft this time of year. Soon a new crop will come in by noisy hay elevators. Sometimes the owls are nesting during haying season but they stay in their nest box and don't fly out when we are putting hay into the loft. Maybe it seems safer to hide in the box than to fly out the window with all that racket going on.
The next two photos show the ladder going up to the nest ledge. There is a gap of about two feet between top of ladder and nest ledge with nest box. It is designed to be a viewing ladder only and not a place to get to the box. We did not want any critter to be able to get to the box if one happened to get into the loft. When we replace the box, we access it with a ladder from the floor of the loft... or from the stack of hay if it is still there.
I took these photos on 4/14. There are still a few bales of hay to clamber over before reaching the foot of the stairs. There is not much room between the stairs and the ceiling so we have to crawl up carefully to keep from hitting our backs on the ceiling... we didn't want to waste much hay storage space as we need it all when the hay first comes in.
Here is the top of the stairs and the nest ledge with the gaps that the owlets stand in to beg when they are getting close to fledging. Owls make a terrible mess, which is why we tarp our hay.
After all that effort getting up those stairs, here is what you see... This photo was taken on March 21st. The owlets were pretty new here, still in their birthday suits. They are cuter after they grow their yellow down. This is pretty much how they look when first out of the egg... they cannot even hold their heads up properly.
The photo below was taken on April 14. They are growing fast so the parents must be able to find enough food for them in spite of all the rain this year.