Barn owl

Profile

The barn owl is a pretty common raptor living almost everywhere in the world. Their pale body sets them apart from most other owls. The chest and heart-shaped face are completely white except for the occasional marking. These owls have rounded heads with no ear tufts.

The back, wings, and head of the barn owl are various shades of brown from off-white to almost black. The wings contain black and white splotches, and they have stripes near the tips.

As would be expected with an owl, the barn owl is nocturnal, and they are well-suited for this night life. Their eyes are much larger than those of most birds their size, so they can see in the dark. They also have amazing ears that allow them to locate prey.

Call

Ask anybody what an owl says, and they’ll most likely say “Hoo,” and that’s true for most owls. The barn owl isn’t like most owls. Though these are beautiful birds, their calls are far from beautiful, and you can see that in the video below.

Definitely not the most pleasant sound to hear during a walk through the woods at night.

Size

For such a loud and horrifying call, barn owls are somewhat small animals. They are only between 13 and 16 inches (32-40 cm) long, with the females being slightly larger than the males.

These owls do have a large wingspan compared to their size, and it can be almost three times their length! Different sources give different measurements for the wingspan ranging from 30 to 49 inches (76-125 cm)!

As with most birds, barn owls are rather light for their size. They can weigh anywhere from 10 to 22 ounces (300-620 g). The largest measurement just happens to be the exact weight of an official NBA basketball.

Diet and hunting

While barn owls have a much different call than most owls, their food is roughly the same. They eat mostly small mammals such as mice, shrews, voles, rats, rabbits, and muskrats. Sometimes they will be able to catch a bird to eat, or depending on where they live, a fish.

Their good eyesight helps them find their prey when there isn’t much light, but when it is completely dark they must use their ears. Barn owls are the best birds at hunting using just sound.

When attacking, this bird’s feathers are soft enough that they muffle the sound of the owl flying. This makes the attack silent so the prey doesn’t get scared away.

Barn owls attack from a low flight, grabbing their next meal with their talons. They will kill the animal with a bite to the neck with the beak. After swallowing the animal whole, it will regurgitate a pellet of all the bones, fur, and other stuff it couldn’t digest.

Habitat and range

As you can see on the map below, barn owls live on every continent except Antarctica. They only inhabit a little bit of Asia, but almost all of South America and Australia. In North America and Europe, they avoid the cold northern parts, and in Africa, they don’t live in the Sahara desert. Still, these owls have one of the largest ranges of any birds.

Barn owls will live in most habitats, including swamps, grasslands, forests, and even cities, but they are most common in open areas or sparse forests. One of the main thing that limits their habitat is the availability of good nesting sites. They will nest in hollow trees, caves, cliffs, church steeples, and barn lofts, which gives them their name.

Status and threats

Barn owls, due in part to their huge range, are classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Redlist. Another reason would be that they are large and fierce enough that they don’t have many predators. The young owls have predators like stoats and snakes, while other raptors, such as golden eagle, peregrine falcons, and great horned owls prey on the adults.

There are a few threats barn owls face from humans, but lucky for them they aren’t very serious yet. These threats are habitat loss, pesticides, and car accidents.

Reproduction and young

Barn owl mating season does not occur at a specific time, as these birds live all around the world. Instead, they will mate whenever there is the right amount of food in their area. These birds don’t really build nests, at least not in the sense that most birds do. They merely form debris into a depression and don’t carefully construct their chicks’ home. Some may just choose to use a nest that’s years old!

Barn owl couples will usually stay together as long as they live. Before mating, the male will chase the female around while they both screech. The male will hover in front of the female for a few seconds as she sits, in a courtship ritual known as the moth flight.

After they have picked a nesting site, the pair will mate. The female will lay between 5 and 11 eggs, usually close to five, and incubates them for about a month After about 60 days, the chicks are able to fly, but they still return to the nest at night for a few weeks.

Depending on where they live, barn owls may raise up to three broods every year, but one brood is the most common. They young barn owls will mate for the first time when they are one year old. Due to their short lifespans of 1-2 years, they may only breed once or twice. In a study of 572 banded barn owls, the average age of death was just under 21 months. Surprisingly, the longest recorded lifespan of this owl was 34 years!

Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Barn owl – Peter Trimming
  • Barn owl range – Public domain

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