When people and livestock move out, wild critters move in.
If you hear a hair-raising scream in the hayloft, don’t be scared. It’s probably just a barn owl calling to its mate. These pale owls with heart-shaped faces nest in empty barns. Parent owls may hiss to warn you away from their nest.
As a snake grows, its outer skin doesn’t grow along with it. Instead, the snake forms a new layer of skin underneath the old layer. When the old skin gets too tight, the snake wiggles out of it and leaves it behind, the same way you might discard old clothes on your bedroom floor.
To build a safe home for her babies, a mama house spider produces a mat of silk, lays up to 400 eggs on top, and then wraps everything up to make a small, silky sac. In the spring, the harmless little spiders hatch, grow for a few days, and then crawl out to explore the barn.
Barn owls build a nest by throwing up pellets of undigested rodent bones and fur. The mama owl shreds the pellets with her talons and arranges the scraps into a round nest. Baby owls literally hatch in a pile of vomit.
Barn swallows and eastern phoebes both build nests on the beams and walls of barns. How can you tell the nests apart? Barn swallows use mostly mud to build their nests. Phoebes weave moss, leaves, grass stems, and animal hair into their muddy nests.
Mud dauber wasps build little tubes out of mud to protect their babies while they grow. Black and yellow mud daubers stack tubes on top of one another to make a rounded nest about the size of your fist. Pipe organ mud daubers make vertical, side-by-side rows of tubes. Blue mud wasps don’t build their own nests. Instead, they use water to soften and remodel other wasps’ nests.
Turkey vultures sometimes nest in barns. While the parents are away, vulture chicks fend for themselves. If another critter creeps too close, the chicks puke on them. This disgusting defense in enough to send most predators packing.
Alexis (AJ) Joyce
Angie Daly Morfeld