Barn Owl, Tyto alba

Kingdom:  Animalia

Phylum:  Chordata

Class:  Aves

Order:  Strigiformes

Family:  Tytonidae

Genus:  Tyto

Species:  alba

Status

Many states have classified the barn owl as threatened or endangered.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not reference this species.  International Union for the Conservation of Nature Status: Least Concern.

Description

A barn owl’s most distinguishing feature is its heart-shaped, creamy white face.  They also have longer legs than most owls.  Their back is tawny golden with gray patches, spotted with brown and white.  Their front is white or pale cinnamon flecked with black dots.  They have a wingspan of 43-47 inches (3.5-4 feet).  Males average 470 grams and females average 570 grams in weight.

Habitat and Range

Barn owls are the most widespread of all owl species, found on all continents except Antarctica.  The North American subspecies is found from Southern Canada, throughout the United States into Mexico and Central America.  They are found in virtually all habitats but much more abundantly in open woodland.

Diet

Barn owls mainly eat small mammals although they will eat the occasional bird, reptile or insect.   Like other owl species, the barn owl does not digest fur and bone.  They rid themselves of these by regurgitating them in a pellet.  A barn owl pellet is smooth and almost black making them easy to identify.

Reproduction

Barn owls will breed any time during the year, and depending on food supply they may breed twice in one year.  Barn owls nest in tree hollows, old buildings, caves, and well shafts.   The bedding of the nest is usually made from the female’s shredded pellets.  An average clutch size is 4-7 eggs.  They are laid at 2-day intervals. They will hatch in 30-34 days, and they will fledge around 9 weeks.  They will continue to return to the nest site for several weeks.

Behavior

A barn owl’s wing is almost furry to the touch.  Its fringed feathers muffle the wing beats so that small animals do not hear it approach.  If threatened the barn owl will spread its wings, hiss, clack its beak, and sway its head from side to side.

Wow!

  • Barn Owls can hunt in the dark using just their hearing to find prey.
  • Their ears are asymmetrical; one is level with the nostril and the other is higher, nearer to the forehead. They are covered with feathered flaps that close in response to loud noises and open for soft sounds.
  • One barn owl may catch 1500 mice in a year.