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Freedom First Wildlife Rehab to start conservation project for endangered barn owls

Waterford — Freedom First Wildlife Rehab is the only nonprofit in the state committed exclusively to the rehabilitation of native owls with the goal of returning them to the wild, as well as community outreach by working to educate the public about these creatures. It is a home-based wildlife rescue service created in 2017 by married couple Gwen and Rich Rice.

Starting in the new year, Freedom First Wildlife Rehab is looking to develop a conservation project to support the declining population of barn owls in eastern Connecticut.

"Finding out they are an endangered species, it's what drove me to want to help," Gwen Rice said.

The state-declared endangered animals principally are found along the coast and within the large river valleys of Connecticut. Breeding has been confirmed in coastal areas and near Middletown, but the true number of barn owls in the state is unknown due to their elusive nature.

Rice said the project is in its first stages and they are trying to recruit landowners that have a minimum of 25 acres of cleared or farmed fields and are committed to avoiding the use of rodenticide for rodent control.

Barn owls hunt meadow voles, mice and shrews, as well as bats, skunks and various birds. They also will eat frogs and large insects but only if necessary.

"We are in the process of submitting a grant application to fund this project and are seeking volunteers to help build and install the nest boxes on approved land," Rice said. "We have received multiple calls of interest and are in the process of screening properties for the optimal locations for a barn owl habitat."

Come early spring or summer, she is hoping to gather enough volunteers to reach the goal of installing six barn owl houses this year in eastern Connecticut.

Rice said owls are cavity nesters and will use the crevices of old tree trunks, barn lofts and abandoned belfrys to nest, however, these sites are limited. They will actively seek and use available manmade structures.

She explained there are many reasons why barn owls are endangered in the state.

Primarily, barn owls face the lack of sources of food due to the declining number of open fields and farms. Connecticut has experienced an increase in reforestation projects, which is good for other forest-dwelling owls but has been detrimental to the barn owl. Other factors include the use of rodenticide, car strikes and human disruption of nest sites. Barn owls also are at risk from predators that include raccoons and great horned owls.

"We have a responsibility to help create a balance with wildlife and barn owls need our help," Rice said. "It takes a team."

Anyone interested in this initiative or with questions can contact Freedom First Wildlife Rehab on its Facebook page at FreedomFirstWildlifeInc, or by calling or texting (860) 514-9591.


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