American Birding Podcast



Bringing up Baby

I've been gratified to see a nesting pair of Barn Owls using a box I built and installed in a pole barn for the second year in a row.  After last year's success, I decided to keep a little closer tabs on the owls this winter and spring.  The site is too remote for me to consider a web cam but I became intrigued with the possibility of using a motion-sensing infrared trail camera to record the goings-on at the box.  IR cameras have some drawbacks with shutter speed and resolution but are also unobtrusive, lacking the glaring incandescent flash required for nighttime color photography.  After consulting my blogging buddy The Camera Trap Codger and the folks at, I ended up selecting the Reconyx Hyperfire HC500 model for my experiment as it had by far the fastest shutter trigger speed of any model (around 0.2 seconds while all other cams I found came in over a second), a feature I felt was critical for automated bird photography.  Even that is too slow to catch the birds launching out of the box but it does detect them flying back in as well as documenting their behaviors on perches within the camera's field of view.  I put a camera into position in the rafters so it could see the box in one corner of the frame, a perching beam running through the middle, and an tall upright box in the background.  It is easy to judge where the owls like to spend time by looking for whitewash and pellets on the ground!  I later added a second camera at the other end of the barn where more such signs gave away another favorite perch.  My camera study is still going on, but here are some interesting results so far!

One neat behavior the trail cameras caught is allopreening by the pair.


Copulation was first observed in mid-February and resumed again in mid May.  Getting ready for another clutch??

Vole Hand-off
Handing off a vole.

A little greeting peck?

Approach flight into box…

Daytime Stretch
Occasionally an owl shows up in the daylight, especially on hot days.  I'm thinking it is the female taking a break from the hot box!

Other visitors such as European Starling, Common Grackle, and this Say's Phoebe have shown up on the owl cam.

The most commonly seen prey item type seems to be voles, small rodents told by their dark fur & short appendages.  Birds weren't seen bringing in prey 'till early March, which I interpret as the male bringing food to the female who had begun incubation.

Ranking second in abundance are small rodents with lighter fur & longer tails- mouse species, I think.

Bunny HeadlessBunny
Bunnies rank third on the prey count, with larger ones often beheaded for easier consumption.

Rarest of prey items seen in the IR images are small birds like this one.