Rare barn owl nest spotted for first time in more than 20 years in La Crosse

Local News

Rare barn owl nest located in Wisconsin for the first time in more than 20 years. / Photo Credit: Karla Bloem

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WJMN) – The last time a barn owl nest was seen in Wisconsin Cher and TLC had the top songs in the country. That is until this September when a nest was spotted in La Crosse after a young barn owl fell out of a dead tree.

The owl was picked up by the Coulee Region Humane Society from Onalaska. When Karla Bloem, the executive director of the International Owl Center in Houston, Minnesota found out that a barn owl had been found, they visited the site and put a camera scope in the tree cavity. The camera showed a pair of barn owl and three owlets.

The healthy owl was returned to its nest in October. The adults and their young stayed near the nest site at least through the end of the month. When the fallen owlet returned, that made a family of six.

“This is an exciting development for Wisconsin as this nest could have easily gone undetected,” said Ryan Brady, DNR Conservation Biologist and Bird Monitoring Coordinator. “Kudos to the staff at Coulee Region Humane, Karla from the International Owl Center for diligent follow-up and the homeowners who provided a habitat to foster this historic nest!”

According to the Wisconsin DNR, this is the first time in more than two decades a nest has been confirmed.

So how do you know if you’ve seen or heard a barn owl?

Location, Location, Location

Barn owls typically nest and roost in tree cavities, abandoned barns and buildings. They require large areas of open land to hunt and can be spotted flying low at night, hunting small rodents mostly by sound.

It’s all in the face

Barn owls can be identified by their iconic, white heart-shaped face, which lacks the ear tufts seen in other familiar owls. Their head, back and upper wings are a mix of buff and gray while their face, body and underwings are white.

What’s that sound?

Barn owls are known for their high-pitched scream. However, identifying this rare species by sound alone can be difficult because of the similarities to the “begging” call of a young great horned owl, a far more common species.

How to help

Report barn owl sightings to Wisconsin eBird or by using the DNR’s rare species reporting form.

People in Wisconsin can support the barn owl population by reporting observations, leaving up dead trees when it is safe, and when it’s possible, don’t use pesticides and rodenticides.

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