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Who’s Who in the Folsom Zoo; Meet Grayson, a handsome barn owl

By: Telegraph Staff
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Editor’s note: This is a weekly feature in the Folsom Telegraph where readers will get the opportunity to meet Folsom’s furriest. This week’s “Who’s Who in Folsom Zoo” is Grayson, a barn owl.

Not all owls hoot! There are owls that screech, like Grayson, a barn owl. Some visitors at the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary say he sounds more like a cricket chirping!

Grayson’s mother built her nest in the top of a palm tree. Because the nest was not large enough to hold all her young chicks (owlets), one fell from the nest to the ground. That young owlet was Grayson. It appeared he had a head injury and had lost his vision. Fortunately, during rehabilitation his eyesight returned. Although initially there were plans to return him to the wild, it was later determined he was not releasable because he had become imprinted (dependent on humans). He found his forever safe home at the zoo sanctuary.

When we imagine a bird building a nest, we think of the parent birds working tirelessly gathering sticks and grasses to build their nest. A barn owl has a much simpler approach. First, they find a desirable nesting site, maybe in a ‘barn’, a hollow tree, on a rocky ledge or even the top of a palm tree like Grayson’s mother did. Next, they rearrange whatever materials they find nearby, make a depression and the nest is complete.

Barn owls have a white heart-shaped face. The male and female are very similar in color with the female slightly larger. Their chest is white with small brown spots. They have soft feathers covering their long wingspan that do not make any noise as they move. This allows them to fly silently which comes in very handy while hunting.   

With excellent vision and hearing, barn owls will hunt for their prey, mostly voles, shrews and mice, typically at night. However, when the nest is full of hungry owlets, barn owls are sometimes seen hunting during the day. With one ear higher on the head than the other, their hearing is extremely sensitive allowing them to pinpoint the tiny sounds of their prey, even in total darkness. With long legs and powerful talons, barn owls can pick up their prey even from under long grasses.

Unlike wild owls, Grayson does not have the opportunity to hunt for his diet, though he sometimes has a surprise visitor from the wild. During evening events at the zoo sanctuary, a wild barn owl is often heard vocalizing from a nearby tree. The wild owl brings Grayson occasional gifts of something wild-caught.

Owls often swallow their food whole. There are parts of their prey they cannot digest like bits of fur and bone. An owl will regurgitate (cough up) what they cannot digest in the form of an owl pellet.

Barn owls are common in many areas of the world. They live in a variety of habitats from deserts to grasslands, forests, agricultural and urban areas. Because barn owls prey on small rodents, with an annual diet that includes approximately 2,000 animals, they are a tremendous help when it comes to decreasing rodent populations.

When you visit the zoo sanctuary, look for the small red barn, just beyond the aviary, for our sleeping barn owl. Look up high within the small barn – Grayson spends most of his day sleeping in the rafters perched on one foot, with his other foot tucked in to his chest.

The zoo sanctuary is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

For more information, go to folsom.ca.us.