Conservation Status Least Concern
The face of the barn owl is heart-shaped. It is coloured white and rimmed by a brown line. The rest of the head is a light brown colour. This is dotted with black and white specks. The underside is white to reddish brown and dotted with black-brown specks. Their back feathers are coloured light brown with darker brown bands running across them. This is then specked with black and white spots. The toes are pink to a dark pinkish grey with black talons at the end.
35 subspecies of barn owl are recognized. These vary in coloration and size to fit their habitat. For instance those islands are smaller as they are dependent on insects and need to be able to move around easier to catch them.
A typical barn owl measures 33 to 39cm. Average wingspan is 80-95cm (31-37in). Weights vary greatly; those in the Galapagos weigh 260g (9.2oz) and those in the Pacific average 555g (19.6oz).
An average wild barn owl will live for between 5 and 10 years. The eldest one ever recorded was 34 years old.
Barn owls are carnivores. Diet changes by region. In North American and Europe most of their diet consists of voles. Throughout the Mediterranean, the tropics, sub-tropics and Australia they will mostly feed on mice and rats. Meanwhile on the Cape Verde Islands to the West of Africa they feed mostly on geckos with birds supplementing their diet. Alongside these main components they also feed on reptiles and large insects.
This is the world’s most widespread landbird species. The only continent on which they are not found is Antarctica. While no permanent colonies exist on Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands some birds are periodically found there meaning they can cross oceans. In 2008 the first barn owl breeding pair was recorded in New Zealand. They have also been introduced to the Hawaiian island of Kauui. This was an attempt to control rodents but unfortunately they have also begun feeding on native birds.
They can exist in rural and urban areas. Often they are seen in grasslands, deserts, marshes and fields. They use hollow trees, cliff and riverbank cavities, caves, church steeples, barn lofts and hay stacks to make a nest. Jackdaws are commonly seen living harmoniously with barn owls.
Barn owls generally breed once a year but some have been known to raise three broods. It is possible for them to breed at any time of the year. A male will do display flights for the female which is accompanied by a call. The female wills screech as will the male. If the female is perched he hovers in front of her for a number of seconds.
When ready to mate the pair will crouch in front of each other. Copulation then begins. They will mate every few minutes while they search for a nest. This continues at a lesser pace until the chicks hatch. Pairs are often monogamous separating following nesting and coming back to the same spot each year to nest.
2 to 18 white eggs are laid at a rate of one egg every 2 to 3 days. These hatch after 29-34 days of incubation. The parents will work together to raise the chicks bringing them food each day till they leave the nest.
Chicks hatch covered in a greyish-white down. They demand food using a chittering sound initially which soon changes to a snore. Their down cannot keep up with their growth.
For a few weeks after the chicks hatch the female eats her chick’s feces so the nest remains sanitary.
50 to 70 days following hatching they take their first flights from the nest but will return to their nest for 7 to 8 weeks. After another 3 to 5 weeks they will start flying.
Sexual maturity is achieved at 1 year of age.
Barns owl are nocturnal returning to their nest during the day. There are areas of Britain and certain pacific islands where they are active mostly by day.
Their eyes allow them to see in the dark and they have acute hearing which helps with detecting prey. One of their ears is set higher than the other allowing them to detect prey on the ground and noises in the air and trees above simultaneously.
Predators of the barn owl include stoats, snakes, golden eagles, red kites, northern goshawks, common buzzards, peregrine falcons, lanners, Eurasian eagle-owls, tawny owls, great horned owls.
These animals have a range of calls. Their most well-known is a drawn-out-gargling scram which is known as the advertising call. They also have a defensive hissing sound and a prolonged twitter for feeding. There is also an explosive yell which they generally direc to mammalian predators.
Barn owls are more effective than poisoning at controlling rodent populations.
Some other common names of the barn owl are demon owl, death owl and ghost owl represent their previous reputation of being birds of evil omen.
They feature on the Lithuanian silver coin of 5 litas.
Top By Jeff Kubina (originally posted to Flickr as Barn Owl) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Middle By Kristina Servant [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Bottom By AllisonMiller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons