What’s happened to the barn owls in a Santa Clara neighborhood?

DR. JOAN: I used to see a lot of barn owls in my neighborhood. Most nights, I heard or saw one flying high overhead northwards, while other nights, I saw one flying around lower. But I haven’t seen or heard from them in over a year. What could have happened to them? Do barn owls have individual territories that change over time?

Santa Clara resident Tim Avila

DR. TIM: I think it’s always great to have a barn owl as a neighbor, but there are a couple of things that might cause them to relocate.

The first problem is a lack of food. Although it’s difficult to imagine a rat shortage, if other predators are taking their share and your neighbors are doing everything they can to keep the rodents at bay, the supply may be limited.

Scientists believe barn owls consume at least one rat per day, so a mother and father with two children would require four per day. In a year, this equates to more than 1,000. One of their most dangerous predators is the great horned owl, which enjoys nothing more than stealing a few owlets from the nest. They will also attack the adults. If a barn owl detects a threat, it will relocate to a more secure location.

Unfortunately, barn owls can be killed by a variety of unfortunate circumstances, including secondary poisoning. If someone in the neighborhood uses rat poisons, an owl that eats a poisoned rat will also be poisoned, which is why rodenticides should not be used.

DR. JOAN: On hot days, in addition to watering my patio and refilling the birdbath, I spray the bushes. Not only do the plants require water, but I’ve had a lot of fun watching the small birds, particularly hummingbirds, drink and bathe in the drops on the leaves. Hummingbirds do not drink only from my sugary feeders.

Also, I finally saw our little night visitor, which I had inquired about a while ago, and identified it as a chickadee. He and a friend apparently hang out under the eaves on the other side of the house, where they feel safe and protected. Chickadees do they migrate?

— El Cerrito’s Joanna Henrichs

DR. JOANNA: The chestnut-backed chickadees that live in the Bay Area, like their more northern cousins, the black-capped chickadees, are not strictly migratory.

Adult chickadees tend to stay in the same area, but depending on the season, they will travel short distances. They prefer higher elevations during the summer and hotter months, but return to the coast and inland areas before winter. That doesn’t mean you won’t see them during the summer, but it does mean you’ll see more of them in the winter.

While many birds enjoy splashing in a birdbath and drinking from it, smaller birds prefer showers. They splash in small puddles, drink droplets of water, and play in the dripping leaves, as you’ve noticed. Hummingbirds are famous for doing this in a good way. They’ll even splash around in a dripping garden hose.

As a result, some people like to install solar-powered fountains in their birdbaths. The devices create a small flume of water that serves two purposes: it stirs up the bath water and provides a place for hummingbirds and small tweeters to shower.

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