Barn Owl's Wisconsin Appearance A Rare Event

The Common Barn Owl is not so common in Midwestern states where it’s considered vulnerable. A recent surprise appearance in Wisconsin highlighted the species’ fragile status in the region.


A raptor listed as an endangered or threatened species in seven Midwestern states made a rare appearance in Wisconsin late in 2009.  The ailing barn owl, which couldn’t fly or stand when rescued in Mequon, is being rehabilitated in the Pine View Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Fredonia.

Although once abundant in the Midwest — and relatively plentiful globally — the common barn owl has plummeted in population in the seven states since the early 1960s.  A combination of habitat loss from farmland development and the past use of toxic pesticides has depressed barn owl numbers in the region.  Barn owls are more susceptible than other owl species to pesticides, although most of the problem chemicals affecting them are no longer in use.

The species is listed as endangered or threatened in Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Ontario, considered the northern extent of its range.  Two members of the Toledo Naturalists Association found that while barn owl nestings were reported in 84 of the state’s 88 counties in the 1930s, the raptors had vanished across Ohio by the 1960s.

Barn owls have been known as “ghost owls” because of the white feathers on their chest and under their wingsand their hissing call.

Nocturnal, solitary, and silent in flight, barn owls are voracious consumers of rodents, making them a favorite of some farmers.   One pair of barn owls and their offspring can consume as many as 3,000 rats per year. A Missouri web site gives instructions on building nest boxes to attract them.

Photo credit:  U.S. Department of Interior.

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