Another animal facts post but this time on...
I have chosen the ‘Common Barn Owl’, which is personally one of my favourite owls.
The common barn owl (Tyto alba) is the most wide spread distributed species of owl and one of the most widespread of all birds; it is found almost everywhere in the world except in polar and desert regions, in Asia north of the Himalayas, most of Indonesia and also some Pacific islands.
The barn owl is a medium-sized, pale-coloured owl with long wings and a short, squarish tail, there is a considerable size variation across the different subspecies but a typical common barn owl tends to be about in overall length.
Barn owls have a typical wingspan of some
, with a full range of .
With its gorgeous heart-shaped face, buff back and wings and pure white underparts, the barn owl is a distinctive and much-loved countryside bird.
The heart-shaped face is usually bright white, but in some subspecies it is brown.
The orientation of the ear coverts in relation to the face also differs between the ears, with a difference of about 15°.
The underparts, including the tarsometatarsal (lower leg) feathers, vary from white to reddish buff among the subspecies, and are either mostly unpatterned or bear a varying number of tiny blackish-brown speckles.
Phylogenetic evidence shows that there are at least three major lineages of barn owl, one in Europe, western Asia and Africa, one in southeast Asia and Australasia, and one in the America’s- these species are ‘Western Barn Owl‘ for Europe, ‘American barn owl’ for the Americas and the ‘eastern barn owl’ for the species in southeast Asia. Some taxonomic authorities further split the group, recognising up to five species, and further research needs to be done to clarify the position but….
Here I’m talking about the common barn owl in Britain.
The common barn owl is nocturnal over most of its range, but it can also hunt by day, common barn owls specialise in hunting animals on the ground and nearly all of their food consists of small mammals such as voles, field mice and shrews which they locate by sound, their hearing being very acute.
They are usually monogamous and have one mate for life unless one of the pair is killed, when a new pair bond may be formed. Breeding takes place at varying times of year according to locality, with a single clutch, averaging about four eggs, roosting sites include holes in trees, fissures in cliffs, disused buildings, chimneys and haysheds and are often small in comparison to nesting sites. As the breeding season approaches, the birds move back to the vicinity of the chosen nest to roost.
During the non-breeding season they may roost separately, but as the breeding season approaches they return to their established nesting site, showing considerable site fidelity.
The female does all the incubation, and she and the young chicks are reliant on the male for food.
The barn owl is a bird of open country where you’re likely to spot them near farmland or grassland or near with some interspersed woodland, usually at altitudes below as this owl prefers to hunt along the edges of woods or in rough grass strips adjoining pasture.
It has an effortless wavering flight as it quarters the ground, alert to the sounds made by potential prey.
Like most owls, the barn owl flies silently; tiny serrations on the leading edges of its its flight feathers and a hairlike fringe to the trailing edges help to break up the flow of air over the wings, thereby reducing turbulence and the noise that accompanies it.
Contrary to popular belief, the barn owl does not hoot like other typical owls such as the tawny owl and other members of the genus Strix, instead it makes a characteristic shree scream which can be painful to human hearing at a close range.
Males in courtship give a shrill twitter, both young and old animals produce a snake-like hiss defense when disturbed.
Other sounds produced include a purring chirrup denoting pleasure, and a kee-yak, which resembles one of the vocalisations of the tawny owl.
When captured or cornered, the barn owl throws itself on its back and flails with its sharp-taloned feet, making for an effective defence, essentially playing dead. In such situations it may also emit rasping sounds or clicking snaps, produced probably by the beak or tongue.
When large numbers of small prey are readily available, barn owl populations can expand rapidly, and globally the bird is considered to be of least conservation concern on the IUCN Red List although some subspecies with more restrictive ranges are more threatened.
While barn owls are prolific breeders and able to recover from short-term population decreases, they are not as common in some areas as they used to be.
A 1995–1997 survey put their British population at between 3,000 and 5,000 breeding pairs, out of an average of about 150,000 pairs in the whole of
This bird has suffered declines through the 20th century and is thought to have been adversely affected by organochlorine pesticides such as DDT in the 1950s and ’60s.
In some areas, it may be an insufficiency of suitable nesting sites that is the factor limiting barn owl numbers. Nest boxes are popular among conservationists who motivate farmers and land owners to install them for use as natural rodent control.
Early successes among conservationists have led to the widespread application of this method which has become the most used form of population management. The barn owl accepts the provided nest boxes and sometimes prefers them to natural sites, when these are available.
In the United Kingdom, the “Barn Owl Nest Box Scheme” is promoted by the World Owl Trust and has many participants in local areas such as Somerset, where a webcam has been set up inside a nest box in which seven young were reared in 2014.
Other research tools include using GPS trackers fitted onto the barn owl allowing precise location tracking of the owl.
Find out more using these websites below:
Until next time.