PLANO — A family of unwelcome visitors at one of North Texas' largest churches is getting an extended stay.
The dilemma began when paint crews began power-washing the portico at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano.
The unwanted visitors are a family of five barn owls, including two adults and three babies. They're nesting in the rafters of the green portico at the main entrance to the church.
Prestonwood leaders originally wanted them moved, but they were told that doing so would be breaking the law.
Church officials called in wildlife relocation expert Bonnie Bradshaw. They told her the adult owls were swooping down on people under the portico.
Bradshaw's workers climbed up on a ladder and took photos of the family of five.
"As soon as we saw where they were, we saw that these are federally-protected birds and they should not be disturbed," Bradshaw said.
Texas Game Warden Leroy Thompson said the Migratory Bird Act of 1918 prevents anyone from physically handling protected birds, including barn owls.
"Basically, that would require a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," he said.
The church decided to let the birds stay until the baby owls fly away.
"We are allowing them to fly away on their own timing," said Executive Pastor Mike Buster. "Painting has been postponed until the owls have safely left our premises."
But that may not be the end of the owl problem.
"They should try to prevent however it is they got into that enclosure. That way, they won't have that problem again in the future," Thompson said. "But if they leave it as it is, the birds will be back to that location again.
Bradshaw, the wildlife re-locator, said plan that would be detrimental to the owls, who depend on human structures for nesting sites.
"If they put up some kind of barrier to it, that means that pair of birds is going to be homeless," she said.
There is no word yet on what the church will do after the babies fly away. The game warden says, based on their size, that could be a few weeks away.