Birds of Prey: The Barn Owl
The Barn Owl
Found throughout the world on every continent except for Antarctica, the Barn Owl is the most common and widespread of all owl species. This medium sized, unique looking member of the owl family is referred to as the Common Barn Owl to help distinguish it from the many subspecies of the Barn Owl family. Belonging to the species tyto alba, there are over forty subspecies, which are identified by their variations in color, size and range
With its unique heart shaped, pale face, the Barn Owl is easily recognizable. Measuring between 13 to 20 inches in length the Barn Owl is considered to be of medium size and certainly smaller than the Great Horned Owl. They have a long wingspan of up to 48 inches and can weigh anywhere from one to two pounds full grown. Their wings are somewhat rounded and they have a noticeably short square tail. Their body and legs are long and the face rounded to an almost heart shape.
The coloring of the Barn Owl is very pale overall with very dark eyes. They have a mix of light brown and grey feathers on their head, back, and upper wing areas and are generally white to off white under the wings and on their face. Some subspecies will have varying amounts of brown speckles on their chest and under-parts with males tending to be less spotted than females. As is common with other birds of prey the female is generally larger than the male by about 10%.
Habitat and Range
The Barn Owl is found throughout North and South America, across Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia and Australia. They are also found on large islands including Tasmania, Madagascar, the Galapagos, and the Hawaiian Islands. In the case of Hawaii, the Barn Owl was introduced there as a means of controlling rodents and this has proven to be very successful.
The Barn Owl can be found in most habitats including woodlands, farmland, grasslands, and open country areas. They are usually found below 2,000 meters in elevation and require a rather large area of open land for hunting. For roosting and nesting the Barn Owl will prefer quiet areas such as tree hollows or man-made structures like silos or a barn, hence the name Barn Owl.
Barn Owl in Flight
Unlike many other owl species the Barn Owl does not hoot. Instead they produce more of a scream or shrill, which can be fairly ear shattering if you happen to be close by. When threatened they will also hiss, much like a snake.
Like other owl species, the Barn Owl is nocturnal preferring to hunt at night although they can occasionally be seen around dusk and also just before sunrise. They are very quiet when in flight and as one might expect they have excellent eyesight and hearing. When hunting they can detect the location and distance of a potential prey with just their hearing.
An Introduction to the Barn Owl
The Barn Owl feeds on a variety of small rodents and will normally consume one to two rodents per night. Their typical diet includes an array of mice, rats, lemming, voles and small rabbits. As they do most of their hunting at night chipmunks and squirrels are generally safe from this keen hunter. The Barn Owl will also on occasion eat other birds including larks, blackbirds, starling’s and also bats. Because the Barn Owl has such a high metabolic rate they require much more food than other owls of the same size. On a pound for pound basis, the Barn Owl consumes more rodents than most other creatures which makes them a valuable resource to farmers looking to control rodent populations.
When hunting, the Barn Owl can either hunt from the air or while perched in a tree or on a fence post scanning for prey. When in the air hunting they will fly slowly and can hover in place to stealthy ambush any potential prey. Their sharp talons and powerful beak make for the perfect hunting tools and they are very efficient hunters.
The Barn Owl can breed at any time during the year especially if food is abundant, but the breeding season generally begins in March to April. The female will normally lay between four to seven eggs and she will do all of the incubating while the male brings food to the nest. In a particularly good year when food is plentiful they may even breed twice.
Barn Owls will usually reuse their nest from year to year and often use tree hollows, ledges, barn lofts, steeples or even caves as a nesting site. The eggs will incubate for 30 to 35 days and the new born owlets will be covered in a white down for the next two weeks. Fledging will normally take about 50 days or so and once they learn to fly they will stay in the general vicinity for a few weeks while learning to hunt. Once able to hunt on their own they will quickly leave the nesting area to fend for themselves and young Barn Owls are capable of breeding after just ten months.
The life span of the Barn Owl in the wild is only about four years and most individual’s mange to breed only once or twice in their lifetimes. While captive Barn Owls can live up to twenty years it is a much different story in the wild. The record for a wild Barn Owl here in America is just eleven and a half years while in captivity the record is just over 25 years.
Barn Owl in Flight
Because the Barn Owl is so common over most of their range they are not considered threatened on a global basis. However, there are some local areas that have seen fairly dramatic declines in their numbers and this has been a result of the use of DDT and rodent pesticides along with the ever present urban sprawl, which decreases suitable nesting locations and the supply of food. In the United States there are nine states that have the Barn Owl currently listed as threatened. What farmers in some parts of the world do not realize is that the best method of eliminating rodents is not through the use of chemicals but by allowing the Barn Owl to flourish in the area.
I hope you enjoyed this look at another one of our beautiful feathered friends. Keep reading below for some interesting facts on the Barn Owl and for articles on other Birds of Prey.
Interesting Facts about the Barn Owl
- The Barn Owl will usually swallow their prey whole including bones. Later they will expel pellets instead of passing the indigestible parts.
- There are over 40 different subspecies of the Barn Owl with the North American version being the largest of the bunch. The smallest subspecies resides in the Galapagos Islands.
- The Barn Owls ability to find prey by just sound is the best of any animal ever tested. In lab tests they have been able to catch a mouse in complete darkness.
- Barn Owls are one of the most recognizable of all owls due to their unique heart shaped face. Most other owl species have round faces, which makes them difficult to differentiate from each another.
- The Barn Owl has numerous other names including; church owl, golden owl, hissing owl, white owl and demon owl.
- Unlike many other species of owl and birds, the female is more colorful than the male.
- Those large black eyes of the Barn Owl, while offering excellent vision, cannot move from side to side. In order to see peripherally they must turn their head from side to side to see to the left or right.
Other Articles on Birds of Prey
- Birds of Prey - The California Condor
Back from the brink of extinction, the California Condor is making a dramatic comeback. Learn everything you need to know about this Bird of Prey and it's remarkable recovery.
- Birds of Prey - The Great Horned Owl
The Great Horned Owl is one of the largest and most recognizable members of the owl family. Learn everything you need to know about this very adaptable and aggressive Bird of Prey.
- Birds of Prey - The Philippine Eagle
One of the largest and most endangered eagles in the world, the Philippine Eagle is only found on four islands in the Philippines. Is it too late to save the king of the Philippine rainforest?
- Birds of Prey - The Snowy Owl
Everything you need to know about the beautiful Snowy Owl. This amazing Bird of Prey is one of the largest owls in the world and certainly one of the most striking with its snowy white plumage.
- Birds of Prey - The Turkey Vulture
They may not be the most beautiful Bird of Prey, but the Turkey Vulture plays a crucial role in nature's cycle of life. Graceful in flight, this New World vulture is quite the social character.
© 2013 Bill De Giulio