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There definitely are barn owls in Minnesota, more than anybody ever thought there were.

"I am utterly amazed at that," said Bob Janssen when he learned of recordings recently made of barn owl vocalizations in southeastern Minnesota. Janssen is author of two volumes of the book "Birds in Minnesota."

Barn owls have been regarded as so few and far between here that they do not even have a population rating. They've been considered something beyond endangered, like no resident barn owls at all.

Karla Bloem is the person making that declarative statement. She is executive director of the International Owl Center in Houston, Minn. She lives outside of town with five owls used to educate visitors to the center.

One of them is a barn owl named Piper. Piper has exchanged calls with itinerant barn owls in the neighborhood.

Bloem has recordings to prove it.

The microphones on the security cameras used to monitor her captive owls have recorded wild barn owl calls in 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. The mics have a sensitivity range of 1,000 yards.

Using equipment purchased with a grant from the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union, in the last two years she has recorded barn owls in seven locations in Houston and Fillmore counties.

She believes these most likely are some of the itinerants, traveling through, perhaps searching for habitat and a mate. When juvenile barn owls leave the nest they disperse widely. Some have been found to move as far as 600 miles. They are not homebodies.

Barn owls nest in Iowa (five to 10 anecdotal reports annually). Bloem believes some of those owls move north into Minnesota and Wisconsin. That would explain two extraordinary findings this fall.

Barn owls raised a family in the structure of the Mississippi River bridge at Wabasha. They were discovered by a state maintenance team. The workers shifted their attention to other sections of the bridge until the birds fledged. That was in October.

At about the same time Bloem, working with local information, found barn owls nesting in La Crosse, Wis., about 60 miles downstream.

Janssen's book records five sightings of this species since 2000 and 33 in the 71 years prior. One of those was a dead bird found in Hennepin County, one of three metro records.

Bloem has records of barn owls nesting in Becker and Otter Tail counties, one seen in Sax-Zim bog a couple of winters ago (most unusual), and three dead owls. The Sax owl also died.

Barn owls are a savanna species nesting in dark, secluded places. They hunt in grassland, along field edges, and fence rows. And, Bloem told me via e-mail, "They are just REALLY tough to detect because they don't talk much and are strictly nocturnal."

Barn owls do not say hoo-hoo. Their voice is an eerie scream or a hiss. The scream is enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, and also to alert sensitive sound recorders.

Barn owls are very different from other owls, Bloem said. They belong to a different family of birds. Their metabolism is way higher than other birds their size.

They become sexually mature at seven months, and in the right conditions can raise three families per year. They seldom see a second birthday. Live fast, die young.

They have exceptional eyesight, even for owls, and their hearing is said to be the best of all animals tested. The owls use these tools to hunt, their prey mostly rodents.

The birds are not built for cold weather, with exposed legs, toe feathers reduced only to bristles, very high metabolism, and active hunting style. That helps explain our very slim population.

Someday in the not-distant future the owls will be more common here. The weather will be better.

Lifelong birder Jim Williams can be reached at


Barn owls in the wild die young
Barn owls can live to 12 years and beyond in captivity. In the wild, they die young. Inexperienced birds starve; weather hampers hunting. Great horned owls eat them. Poisoned rodents share death. All other factors that kill birds apply.

These owls are about the size of cat. What you see is mostly feathers. The birds weigh one pound, give or take.

Barn owls do nest in barns, sometimes
Barn owls are cavity nesters. They will dig burrows or use the dark interior of old sheds and barns. They will use nest boxes. Location of nests, however, is highly dependent on prey availability.

Free owl webinars
You can learn more about owls by tuning your computer to a series of free webinars scheduled Sundays through February. More information on these free programs is at

Contact the center for more information:, or

Owl Center funded by donations, memberships
The International Owl Center in Houston, Minn., has a small staff, Karla Bloem as executive director, assisted by two part-time educators and a part-time gift shop/admissions person.

Operations are funded by admissions, gift shop sales, program fees, memberships and donations. It receives no government support or grants (other than the normal COVID relief that most businesses got).

"I am utterly amazed at the barn owl information Karla Bloem has gathered. Her information is outstanding on a bird we know very little about here." — Bob Janssen, author of "Birds in Minnesota," second edition, 2019