The barn owl (Tyto alba) is one the commonest owl species around the globe. With the exception of the arctic and arid regions, northern Asia north of the Himalayas, most of Indonesia, and some Pacific Islands, the barn owl (Tyto alba) are present just about anywhere else on Earth. The common barn owl is a member of the Tytonidae family, which includes two of the three major groups of living owls (the other being the typical owls) (Strigidae).
At least three distinct subspecies of barn owl may be distinguished across the globe: the western barn owl, native to Europe, western Asia, and Africa; the eastern barn owl, native to southeast Asia and Australasia; and the American barn owl, native to the Americas.
Barn Owl Nomenclature
So, how did the barn owl get its name? Barn owls are referred to by the Latin term Tyto alba, which translates to “white owl.” The Greek words tyto, meaning “owl,” and alba, meaning “white,” are the basis for this scientific name. Strix alba was the name given to it by Giovanni Antonio Scopoli (taxonomist). Wood owls, however, belong to the Strigidae family. Hence the genus Strix was relegated to that group.
Since these owls are present in so many different places, their 25 recognized subspecies span a wide range of physical characteristics, from size to plumage.
What Does A Barn Owl Look Like?
The barn owl’s white, heart-shaped face is instantly recognizable. They lack the ear tufts of many other owl species and have smooth skulls. The eyes of the owl are big and black. Brown and grey feathers frame their heart-shaped faces, and the backs of their wings and bodies have similar colors. The underside of the wings is pale & they are short and round. Their very white breasts are sometimes visible. Male owls prefer mating with females who possess more spots.
So, how big is a barn owl? The largest barn owls weigh in at about 700g, or about 1.5 pounds, while the average weight is between 400 and 600g. Typically, males will be lighter and smaller in stature than their female counterparts. The length of these birds can range from 32 to 40 centimeters (about 12.5 to 15 inches). They have a wing span of roughly 100–125 cm (39 to 49 inches).
Where Are Barn Owls Found
Barn owls can be found on every continent but Antarctica, making them the world’s most widely distributed land bird. Aside from the islands of Fennoscandia and Malta, its distribution spans the entirety of Europe, much of Africa beyond the Sahara, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Australia, a number of Pacific Islands, and much of North and South America.
In most cases, this species is believed to be stationary, and it is true that once individuals settle in one region, they tend to stay put even if other suitable habitats for foraging are located nearby. In the British Isles, juveniles appear to spread mostly along river corridors, typically venturing 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) from their birthplace.
Barn Owl Behavior
These owls mostly hunt at night because they are nocturnal. The discs on their faces help sound get to their ears, so they can hear sounds better. These owls eat their prey whole. After they digest their whole prey, it comes back up as pellets. Scientists study these pellets, which can be up to 1.5 inches long, to learn a lot about what the barnowl eats.
Their eyes can see twice as well as ours can. This, along with the fact that their wings are bigger than their bodies, helps them hunt quietly at night. They like to hunt out in the open.
People say that the sounds these owls make sound like banshees. The barn owl is different from most other owls because it has a haunting screech instead of a hoot. The fact that these owls sleep in old barns is how they got their names. They also like tree holes and other hollow places that are empty.
Barn Owl Sounds Or Barn Owl Call?
So, what does a barn owl sound like? Unlike other owls, Barn Owls don’t hoot but instead let out a lengthy, harsh scream that lasts for roughly 2 seconds. The male makes it, and he does it by repeatedly calling while in flight. Females are an infrequent source of the call. A purring call is a gentler, more wavering variation of this.
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Where Do Barn Owls Live?
There are many subspecies of these owls, and they live in many different places around the world. They are a species that can live in a wide range of places, from deserts to farms.
Because these owls make their nests in barns and other buildings, they are fine living in cities, suburbs, and other places where they are close to people.
What Do Barn Owls Eat?
These owls are birds of prey, and rats and mice are their main prey. Scientists find frogs, small bird species, and even fish by taking apart pellets.
Some of these owl species eat insects to stay alive. These are smaller owls that live on islands. Where they live, there aren’t a lot of big things to eat, so this subspecies of owl has learned to make do with what it has.
Barn Owl Predators
Baby barn owls and their eggs are food for opossums, eagles, and raccoons. Other types of owls, like the great horned owl and the eagle owl, also eat barn owls.
When it comes to population decline, these owls are a Least Concern species. Their numbers are the same all over the world, but there are projects to bring them back to life in places where they are going extinct.
Barn Owl Reproduction
When a male owl is ready to mate with a female, he will put on a show while flying. One of these moves is called “moth flight,” and it’s when the male owl hovers in the air in front of the female.
These owls can breed all year long and build up to two nests yearly. Once they find a mate, they stay in the same area, and about 75% of barn owls stay together for life. These two owls “separate” if they can’t have enough babies together. Barn owls choose trees close to the large, open fields where they like to hunt when they are getting ready to lay eggs.
Females lay anywhere from two to twelve eggs, which they do over several days. This is so that the owlets don’t all hatch at the same time. If there are lots of food sources, the female will lay more eggs. Each egg takes about 30 days to hatch. After about 15 weeks of care by their parents, chicks leave the nest.
Barn Owl Population
Because these owls are so common, it is hard to get a good count of how many there are. Recent estimates say that There are between 4 million and 10 million barn owls in the world.
The IUCN’s Red List says that this species is one that is “Least Concern.” Their biggest threat is the loss of their habitat, but their numbers are mostly stable. The most vital thing you can do to protect barn owls is to give them places to raise their young, like nesting boxes.
Barn Owl Facts
- They often hang out in barns and farm fields, which give them plenty of places to hunt. During the day, they find a safe place to sleep, like a hollow tree, an old building, or a hole in a rocky cliff.
- The middle toe claw of a barn owl has a comb with teeth on it. So far, scientists think this is a way for the animal to clean itself.
- Most owls have special feathers that look like combs and help them fly quietly. The leading edge is “fringed” so that when the feathers move, they don’t rub together and make noise.
- Barn owls hunt at night, and even though they can see well, they mostly use their hearing. One of an owl’s ears is higher than the other, which helps it hear sounds better. During the flight, the left ear listens to sounds from below, and the right ear listens to sounds from above.
- Also, the feathers on their faces form a disc that helps trap and focus sound. Researchers say that the barn owl can still find even the smallest prey in total darkness because it has such good hearing.
- In the wild, a lot of young barn owls don’t make it through their first year. Some scientists think this might be because they breed and raise large nests more than once a year, which takes a lot of energy.
- Most pairs of barn owls stay together as long as both birds are still alive. They don’t build nests. Instead, they lay their eggs in man-made structures like towers, barns, and other buildings. They often return to the same spot year after year.
- Farmers & ranchers have great interest in the barn owl because it can get rid of rodents better than traps, poison, or cats. On some Pacific islands, people were responsible for introducing them to get rid of rats, and locals put nest boxes for them in palm groves for the same reason.
- Barn owls can eat twice as much food as other owls their size because they are bigger. They can search for food over an area of 100 acres (0.4 km2) each night. A single barn owl chick can eat up to 25,000 mice in one year.
- The eyes of an owl always look straight ahead. They can’t move from side to side as human eyes can. For the owl to see around it, it must turn its head.
- It is not true that an owl’s head can turn all the way around. Owls have 14 vertebrae in their necks, which lets them turn their heads 270 degrees.
Ecology and Conservation
As predators, owls are very important to the environment because they keep the number of small animals in check. Since mammals are their main food source, this can be especially helpful for people because it lowers the amount of food that rodents eat every year. There are also animals that eat barn owls.
In the Midwest of the United States in the early 1980s, the number of barn owls was going down, which was a cause for concern. Six states said the species was “endangered,” and nine others said it was “worthy of special concern.” Pesticides have gotten into their eggs, which has made their shells thinner and led to their deaths.
The loss of open fields for hunting and the removal of farm buildings that barn owls use to nest and sleep was the cause of their lower numbers. At the moment, most barn owls in North America live in the southeastern states. This is because old trees and buildings in rural areas are good places to nest, and farmlands and open fields are good places to hunt.
Is It Rare To See A Barn Owl?
“That’s a really ominous sound to make late at night. But in actuality, not many people get to see or hear them because of how uncommon they are. One of the most common owls, barn owls, may be found on every continent except Antarctica.
What Is Special About A Barn Owl?
Because of its superior vision in dim light, the Barn Owl can easily locate its prey. However, it has the best record of any animal studied for using only sound to track its prey. The lab can detect mice in total darkness; in the wild, it can find mice present under snow or in thick foliage.
Why Is It Called A Barn Owl?
The barn owl stands out from the crowd because of its haunting screeches rather than its hoot. Barn owls earn their moniker because they are often found roosting in derelict barns.
Why Do Barn Owls Scream?
The male’s purring sound is a quiet scream to entice the female to the nest location, while the advertising call is a long, gargling scream meant to attract potential mates.
What Eats A Barn Owl?
The western Palearctic’s barn owl subspecies are noticeably smaller than their North American relatives. Occasionally, golden eagles, red kites, goshawks, buzzards, peregrine falcons, lanners, eagle owls, and tawny owls will hunt on individuals of these subspecies.
What’s The Lifespan Of A Barn Owl?
Barn owls can live up to 34 years, but the usual lifespan is closer to two to four years.
Parvaiz Yousuf is a senior SEO writer and editor with an experience of over 6 years, who also doubles up as a researcher. With an MSc zoology degree under his belt and possessing complete Search Engine Optimization (SEO) knowledge, he works as a science journalist for a US-based website and Asian Scientist (A Singapore-based magazine). He also works as Director of Wetland Research Centre, Wildlife Conservation Fund YPJK since 2018. Besides, he has several publications to his name on cancer biology and biochemistry in some reputed journals such as Nature & International Journal of Molecular Sciences, & magazines such as Science Reporter, BUCEROS BNHS, and has an abiding interest in ornithology. He also worked as a Research Associate for JK Policy Institute.