State College Bird Club
February 22, 2017
State College Bird Club Meeting, February 22, 2017
Presiding: Diane Bierly
Recording: Debra Grim
Checklist: xx species reported
Treasurer report (Jean Miller): $167 in January
Karl Streidieck brought a raven’s nest to the meeting constructed from barbed wire. (See attached photo taken by Susan Smith.)
Laura Jackson has bird-friendly coffee for sale, grown by Honduran coffee farmer Emilio Garcia.
Greg Grove is offering copies of Birding in Central Pennsylvania for $7.
Tussey Mountain Hawk Watch, the best Golden Eagle site in the
Appalachians, will be staffed from this weekend (February 25) until the
end of April. Days with south or southeast winds are usually the best.
The second annual Earth Day Birding Classic will be held April 22-23,
noon to noon. This fundraising event is cosponsored by the
Environmental Studies program at Penn State Altoona and Juniata Valley
Audubon Society. To participate, register your team by April 15 at
Next meeting: March 22: Former Bird Club President Nick Kerlin will
present information regarding the ongoing bird banding project at the
Penn State Arboretum.
Speaker: Clay Lutz, Wildlife Diversity Biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Southcentral Region.
Clay’s primary responsibility at the PGC is to improve wildlife habitat
for species of greatest conservation need by providing technical
assistance to private landowners. He majored in Ecology and in
Environmental Science at Juniata College, where he researched the
nesting ecology of map turtles. Clay is pursuing a Master’s in Wildlife
Science at Penn State.
Barn Owls, although globally distributed (even found on remote
islands), are rare and declining in number. Their preferred habitat in
Pennsylvania are grasslands and farms. They nest in structures; there
are no recent records of Barn Owls in Pennsylvania nesting in natural
cavities. The PA Breeding Bird Atlas shows that this species is
restricted mainly to the southeast and southcentral portions of the
The reason for the decline is habitat loss, as agricultural land use is
changing from pasture to corn and soybeans. A conservation initiative
of 2005 calls for:
1. Secure nesting and foraging habitat, which includes provision of nest boxes.
2. Assessment of Barn Owl distribution and abundance,
implemented by checks of known nest sites and searches for reports of
3. Evaluation of habitat use and food resources.
Pellet analysis shows that 75% of the diet consists of meadow voles,
and 95% is grassland mammals. Farm fields tend to be too bare to
provide these needs. Plentiful food initiates nesting.
4. Improvement of nesting and foraging habitat. This
involves conversations with landowners. Farmers are often too busy for
this, but they are receptive because they value Barn Owls.
5. Assessment of dispersal and lifespan, which
averages about 15 months for Barn Owls. One banded owl, however,
reached five years of age. Of more than 950 banded nestlings, only 64
were known to return to the same area as adults. One owl banded in Aden
Troyer’s hometown in Ohio was later found in Juniata County, and the
body of one Pennsylvania Barn Owl was recovered from a Florida beach,
but the median dispersal distance appears to be about 73 miles, in no
particular direction. It is thought that the juveniles remain in their
parents’ territory until fall.
Barn Owl necropsies have not regularly checked for West Nile Virus, but this may be added to the procedure in future.
The top predator of Barn Owls is the Great Horned Owl. Increasing the
forest area near farms increases the likelihood of Great Horned Owl
attacks. However, nonhuman predators rarely are the cause of heavy
losses in populations of prey. For example, news reports that hawks are
eating all the grouse and other game animals in Huntingdon County are
unlikely to be true. The number one cause of death in Barn Owls appears
to be starvation.
Higher commodity prices has resulted in fewer renewals of CREP programs, which has impacted the habitat for Barn Owls.
Nest boxes do not have a recommended minimum distance above the ground,
but probably higher locations are safer from nest predators. Barn
activity does not generally seem to disturb nesting Barn Owls.
If food is abundant, Barn Owl families can share territory.
Hacking has not been tried as a method to increase populations, but is considered risky.
We don’t actually know what the baseline population for Barn Owls is.
They became plentiful in the mid-twentieth century because of farming
practices that favored them, but now they are struggling, as are other
Minutes by Debra Grim