A New Year’s Lesson From A Barn Owl

Before we can photograph owls we have to find them and this wise ol’ Barn Owl taught me a valuable lesson in that regard.


1/1000, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

We happened to spot this Barn Owl on New Year’s Day two years ago today as it was roosting in a haystack in Box Elder County. It was pretty well hidden in a nook between the bales so I had to carefully maneuver my pickup to see it even this well. I was frustrated that the owl never once opened its eyes while I had it in my viewfinder but that tendency is typical of many owls during daytime (this photo was taken in early afternoon).

During the long drive home I realized that this wasn’t the first time I’d seen a Barn Owl in a haystack (whether the bales are composed of hay or straw I tend to call stacks of them haystacks) so I told myself to never pass a haystack again without checking it out for owls. Since that time I’ve seen several more Barn Owls in haystacks so this bird taught me a valuable lesson about locating owls.

I used to largely ignore stacks of hay or straw but no more.


Sometimes I can’t help but think that owls have some sort of Rip Van Winkle syndrome.


1/1000, f/8, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

This Western Screech Owl roosts in a tree far across the Salt Lake Valley from my home. In the last few weeks I’ve made 12-15 trips to the tree at varying times of day in an effort to catch it with its eyes open with no luck at all. Despite all the human activity below the tree (a parking lot for a mini-mall) the owl relentlessly sleeps through it all.

I actually thought about this owl last night at midnight when I was jarred out of a deep sleep by the thunderous fireworks of the crazies in my neighborhood celebrating the New Year.

Damn, I  wish I could sleep like that!


PS – Happy New Year Everyone. I hope there are gobs of owls in your 2018!



43 comments to A New Year’s Lesson From A Barn Owl

  • Your story reminds me of the time when I was a volunteer at Rio Grande Nature Center in Albuquerque and led nature walks for school groups. I took a group of youngsters from a nearby Pueblo to see a Western Screech-Owl which roosted at the entrance to its hole in almost the same manner as your photo. Their culture seemed to instill some sense of fear about owls (and snakes– we also encountered one and they wanted me to kill it, but that is another story!) so they watched quietly. Suddenly a police car siren pierced the silence and the owl opened its eyes. They squealed with delight. Their teacher later sent us their drawings which were assigned as part of the visit, asking that they portray their moat interesting experience. Almost all pictured the owl with its eyes wide open!

    • Laura Culley

      One of my most treasured memories of doing school programs was the letters from the kids about what they learned from the program. With the younger ones, it was almost always about how the hawks, falcons and owls pooped. Poop is a big thing with them and it’s nearly inevitable 🙂 I loved doing ed programs and would love to get back doing that regularly.

      • Laura, I learned a lot from the kids. New to New Mexico, I lacked much knowledge about the trees, flowers and plants even after taking the docent training. On one of my early walks we encountered a lizard with its tail missing. Thinking I had a teaching opportunity (and of course with my answer prepared– a Roadrunner), I asked what is one of the greatest enemies of the lizard. One little kid piped up right away: “We are! Humans take away their habitat.” That really took me down a peg! Here in South Florida I can manage a First Saturday wetlands walk for the public, but only in the cooler months.

        • Laura Culley

          I have a LOT to learn about the flora and fauna here. About all I’ve figured out on the flora end is that the bunnies hide in the mesquite, clumps of big grasses, and their favorite place in a cactus I’m calling Son of Cholla. I haven’t had time (or remembered when I did have time) to check out what it’s REALLY called, but that’s nasty stuff and it does not play fair!

  • Debbie

    Happy New Year Ron! Love your owl photos.

  • Melanie Wells

    I love your owl photos, Ron!! If you look carefully the Barn Owl is actually squinting at you. Those guys don’t miss much. The little Screech, however, appears to be sound asleep and soaking in the warmth of the sun…just as you suspected. I will have to pay much closer attention to hay bales from now on!

  • Nicole

    GOBS OF OWLS!! Best New Years wish EVER!

  • Zaphir Shamma

    Happy New Years Ron!!!

  • Laura Culley

    HAHA!! When I was doing ed programs, I used to love to put the Eastern screech owl up against a tree (in the outside programs) and surprise folks with just how well their feathered camo works. And if you’re up hunting all night, it’s good to blend into the background for a while! Barn owls and haystacks and screech owls, GHOs, Barred owls, etc., blend into their wooded backgrounds very well. If they keep their eyes closed (and the camo complete), chances are REAL good that almost all humans are oblivious of their presence. That’s a good thing. Humans are cute and all, but we’re noisy and annoying, at best, except for some wildlife photographers who keep respectful distances :-), of course!
    Happy 2018! May it be full of blessings and joy!

  • Ahhh. Too many owls would be barely enough.
    Love the spangled plumage on the Barn Owl. And the camoflague on the Screech Owl. Despite its location I suspect many/most people never see it. And yes, how I would love to be able to sleep like that.

    • “Despite its location I suspect many/most people never see it”

      You’re right, EC. The only folks who ever see it are those who notice someone else looking up there and those who are told where it is, like me.

  • Susan Stone

    Happy new year to you, too, Ron! I realize now that we were blessed with no fireworks at midnight. We had a bunch of happy kids and adults around and had a nice toast to the new year. I would love to have a year filled with Owls. I hope yours is filled not only with Owls but all sorts of interesting birds demonstrating their behaviors for you. Lots of nesting raptors, also.

  • Marty K

    To look for the good in unexpected places — what a wonderful lesson for this first day of a fresh new year. 🙂 And gorgeous owls to boot! That screech is adorable with his little ear tufts and his perfect blending into the tree.

    Wishing you, Mia, and the whole Feathered Photography family a happy, healthy, and bird-filled 2018!

  • April Olson

    I like both photos showing sleeping owls, it shows a typical daytime behavior. As a kid I have seen Great Horned owls sleep in hay stacks in the winter in Centerville, not many haystacks out there anymore. My luck is I usually see owls at night when I don’t take photos of owls, flashes are too crewel for the owl. I don’t remember seeing many Barn Owls in my youth despite all the time I spent in barns. I do remember the first time I heard a Barn Owl scream as a kid it scared me to death.

  • Porcupine

    Not sure if you are a fan of of fancy wooden jigsaw puzzles but if you get that Screech Owl made into a 600 piece wooden puzzle it would be fabulous. Great colors, great patterns and when I look at the picture I can hear the whistle. Love it.

  • Lydia Schindler

    Ron, Happy New Year to you!! May you continue your wonderful observations of wildlife. You have been an extraordinary teacher and inspiration. Since following your blog my understanding and love for birds has gone to a much higher level. Thank you!

  • sallie reynolds

    In the Central Valley of California, rehabbers get in loads of baby barn owls off hay trucks. The parents lay eggs in the openings between bales and the shippers load many bales at once. Then, arriving at the feed store, the young are discovered when the bales are off-loaded. Parent birds, of course, are left behind. Sometimes the California Raptor Center gets in eggs, which they often incubate. Here the barnies also like the dead frond tangles in palm trees for their eggs. That doesn’t work out too well, either.

  • Shirley

    Martha’s link worked for me, I clicked on it anyway & it worked. Thank you Martha, very interesting. Will check it out better when I have my other set of eyes on.

  • Shirley

    Happy New Year Ron & Mia! Also Happy New Year to all your followers! I hate the fire crackers & fire works waking me up as well but more so my poor old Shetland Sheepdog who is so terrified of the noise, he will be pretty tired today I’m sure, Nice to see the Owl photos eyes open or closed I enjoyed them as I have only seen the Northern Pygmy Owl, I will be checking piles of hay in the future too. Ron, a big thank you for yesterday’s post of the Canvas Back, you answered a question for us, a few months ago we saw a duck in a group of various ducks & we had know idea what it was until yesterday.

  • Fixing to be dawn here in a few minutes, I’m about to go out the door, about 42 F, will go for birds flying before the rising moon tonight. You might like to know that in medieval England barn owls were kept for pets. Here is a 1640 painting illustrating same.https://tinyurl.com/ybrgw34a.

    May the new year bring peace of mind to all.

  • Judy Gusick

    Happy New Year to you and Mia and all on the list! 🙂 -25 with a -46 wind chill this morning………..:( Got up to -12 here yesterday with sunshine – sunshine always helps! Have a foot plus of snow on the ground so that helps everything below ground at least. Love the owls! Guessing the hay/straw bales provide a little shelter and heat. When the owls sleep, they sleep unless the magpies find them and get TOO obnoxious.

    • Damn, that’s cold, Judy! I once saw -53 (without wind chill) on the Cut Bank farm but that was when I was a little kid and I don’t remember much about it. Lots of memories of it being in the -40’s though and I don’t think I could endure it at my age now.

      I think the hay/straw provides a little insulation for them when it’s hot too.

      • Judy Gusick

        Didn’t think about heat and the hay bales. Know in the cold the out door dogs and barn cats used them many years ago……. No critters out today except for the pheasants I just put some grub out for and they’re starting to roost in the trees – know it’s cold when that happens!

  • Joanne OBrien

    Morning Ron! Happy New Year! I wish you and all the great people that congregate on this blog a wonderful 2018. May it be filled with exciting birds and photography! If we are doing weather reports: It was 0 degrees in Massachusetts this AM, less with the wind chill. Brrrrr!

  • Barbara

    Happy New Year to you as well. Right now I’m trying to get a picture of a GHO who has taken over an eagles nest. Fortunately, the eagles had not laid eggs, but the GHO takeover has left the eagles scrambling to build a new nest and get eggs laid. They are WAY behind schedule. Last year the eggs hatched last week, this year they are still building. We shall see what happens. Not to happy with the GHO right now. This is the second time he has taken over the eagles nest. First time the eggs had hatched and the eaglets killed.

  • Dick Harlow

    Happy New Year Ron & Mia!
    Beautiful shots and thanks for the tip on Owls. I have unsuccessfully tried to find a sleeping owl.
    It was -8 this AM and tonight it is supposed to get down to -10 to -20. Don’t think I’ll be out and about.
    However, today there is bright blue sky, no wind, and 6-8 inches of snow on the ground.

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