Barn owls and art history

barn owl.jpg

"Read something irrelevant every day." So said the late Charles Bergengren, a wild and unforgettable art history teacher experienced by many students of a certain era at the Cleveland Institute of Art. It was one of his best pieces of advice. I try to keep it top of mind, but of course so many of us are maddeningly determined to focus on two things: that which is aggressively useful and that which is Facebook.

Anyway, yesterday I was expecting to present a one-eyed barn owl at a park program. There I was, freshly refreshed on all my cool barn owl facts (including the story of why the owl has just the one eye), when the weather conspired to cancel the program. I had nowhere to go but my sketchbook. Which meant I did yet more research, which included watching a video by a thoroughly pleasant British man who explained how to build a nest box for barn owls. You may be wondering why we would need to build a box for an owl. Are these bird parents so dimwitted that they can't do the first thing for their their children?

Strictly speaking, barn owls can find their own tree cavities and such for nesting, but they love dry, sheltered places, such as barn rafters, near open fields, and—well, there aren't as many of those these days. In Ohio, the department of natural resources teams up with volunteers to install boxes, and monitor chicks, in spaces conducive to barn owl life. This is helping barn owl populations, and also helping us count them. There were 73 known barn owl nests in Ohio in 2017.

As for the boxes: The difference between smart design and poor design can be the difference between life and death for barn owl chicks. About 75 percent of barn owls don't make it to their first birthday, so we want to be mindful of not doing things that will hasten their death, such as building a next box that encourages them to fall out of the box before they can fly.

The point is (yes! There's a point!) I won't be building a barn owl box because I don't live near open farmland or meadow. But I feel better knowing that if the question were to arise, I could at least advise someone on the proper design, and maybe run to Home Depot for supplies. I'd like to think that Charlie would be proud of me.

By the way, the owl has just the one eye because she was injured in the nest by one of her siblings. We can always fix the box design. Family relations are more complicated.