Waterford – Freedom First Wildlife Rehab is a home-based non-profit organization established in 2017 by married couple Gwen and Rich Rice.
It is the only non-profit organization in the state dedicated exclusively to the rehabilitation of native owls, with the aim of putting them back in the wild, and in raising community awareness, working to educate the public about owls.
Starting in the new year, Freedom First Wildlife is looking to develop a conservation project to support the declining barn owl population in eastern Connecticut.
“Finding out that this is an endangered species is what made me want to help,” said Gwen Rice.
The state-declared endangered animals are mainly found along the coast and in the great river valleys of Connecticut. Breeding has been confirmed in coastal areas and near Middletown, but the actual number of barn owls in the state is unknown due to their elusive nature.
Rice said the project is in its early stages and they are trying to recruit landowners who have at least 25 acres of fields cleared or cultivated and have pledged to avoid the use of rodenticides for rodent control.
Barn owls hunt meadow voles, mice and shrews, as well as bats, skunks and various birds. They will also eat frogs and large insects, but only if necessary.
“We are in the process of applying for a grant to fund this project and are looking for volunteers to help build and install the nesting boxes on approved land,” Rice said. “We have received several calls for interest and are in the process of selecting properties for the optimal locations for Barn Owl habitat.”
In the early spring or summer, she hopes to muster enough volunteers to meet the goal of setting up six barn owl homes this year in eastern Connecticut.
Rice said the owls nest in cavities and will use crevices in old tree trunks, barn attics and abandoned belfries to nest, however, these sites are limited. They will actively research and use the artificial structures available.
She explained that there are many reasons barn owls are endangered in the state.
Mainly, barn owls face the lack of food sources due to the decreasing number of open fields and farms. Connecticut has seen an increase in reforestation projects, which is good for other woodland owls but has been detrimental to the barn owl. Other factors include the use of rodenticides, collisions with cars, and human disturbance of nesting sites. Barn owls are also threatened by predators such as raccoons and great horned owls.
“We have a responsibility to help create a balance with the wildlife and the Barn Owls need our help,” Rice said. “You need a team.
Anyone interested in this initiative or having questions can contact Freedom First Wildlife Rehab on their Facebook page at FreedomFirstWildlifeInc, or by calling or texting (860) 514-9591.