Back before the days when you could walk into your barn and flip on the light switch, before the days you could shine a flashlight into your rafters, farmers would enter their barns with a kerosene lantern—the kind that casts eerie shadows all around.
Often, a set of territorial barn owls parents, and four or five mimicking offspring, peered down from the rafters, leaning their round, heart-shaped and white-faced heads over, displaying the full length of their white under-wings, using the sparkle of their little, beady-black eyes and verbally instructing the farmer to exit the barn. Immediately.
The barn owl is the owl that doesn't give a hoot. Oh no, it gives a scream that literally scares its prey stiff. For the human though, it causes the hair on the back of the neck to stand up as the body does an about face and the feet accelerate to speeds the human did not think were possible. All the stories we heard as children about ghosts in the barns were probably just barn owls, the farmer's friends. Barn owls like to eat mice and mice like to eat the farmer's crops.
That makes the farmer and barn owl friends—from a distance and working different shifts.
When this was originally published, Bonnie Cannon was the Education Director at Wildlife Prairie State Park.