Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
(Tyto alba)

  • General Information: These pale, nearly worldwide, birds are closely associated with man through their traditional use in the old world of barn lofts and church steeples as nesting sites. Although widely known beforehand, it was in 1769 when the Barn Owlwas first officially described by Giovanni Scopoli, an Italian naturalist. The species name "alba" also refers to the colour white. Other names for the Barn owl have included Monkey-faced Owl, Ghost Owl, Church Owl, Death Owl, Hissing Owl, Hobgoblin or Hobby Owl, Golden Owl, Silver Owl, White Owl, Night Owl, Rat Owl, Scritch Owl, Screech Owl, Straw Owl, Barnyard Owl and Delicate Owl.
  • Description: The Upperparts are light grey with numerous fine dark lines and scattered pale spots on the feathers. There are buff markings on wings and on the back. The underparts are white with a few black spots, occasionally none. Feathering on the lower legs may be sparse. The heart-shaped facial disc is white with a brownish edge, with brown marks at the front of the eyes, which have a black iris. Its beak is off-white and the feet are yellowish-white to brownish. Males and females are similar in size and colour, females and juveniles are generally more densely spotted. Generally nocturnal, although it is not uncommon to see this species emerge at dusk or be active at dawn, occasionally being seen in flight during full daylight. Flight is noiseless, with wingbeats interrupted by gliding.
  • Nesting: Barn Owls will breed any time during the year, depending on food supply. In a good year, a pair may breed twice. Rodent plagues cause Barn Owl numbers to increase dramatically. During courting, males may circle near the nest tree, giving short screeches and chattering calls. The majority of Barn Owls nest in tree hollows up to 20 metres high. They will also nest in old buildings, caves and well shafts. 3 to 6 eggs are laid (occasionally up to 12) at 2 day intervals. The eggs are 38 to 46mm (1.5-1.8") long and 30 to 35mm (1.2-1.4") wide and will be incubated for 30 to 34 days. Chicks are covered in white down and brooded for about 2 weeks, and are fledged in 50 to 55 days. After this, they will remain in the vicinity for a week or so to learn hunting skills and then rapidly disperse from the nest area. Young birds are able to breed at about 10 months.
Barn Owl Chicks
  • Hunting & Food: Barn Owls specialise in hunting small ground mammals, and the vast majority of their food consists of small rodents.  Mice are an important food item, as well as pocket gophers, shrews and rats. Barn Owls breed rapidly in response to mouse plagues. Other prey may include baby rabbits, bats, frogs, lizards, birds and insects. Prey are usually located by quartering up and down likely looking land - particularly open grassland. They also use low perches such as fence posts to seek quarry.

  • Calls of Barn Owl: The Barn Owl calls infrequently, the usual call being a drawn-out rasping screech. The courtship call of male at nest is a shrill repetitive twittering. Adults returning to a nest may give a low, frog-like croak. When surprised in its roosting hollow or nest, it makes hissing and rasping noises and snapping sounds that are often called bill snapping, but possibly made by clicking the tongue.