Common Barn Owl - Tyto alba
Calls - Tyto alba
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 Owl was 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.
[For help with terms used in the description, see parts of an owl. For general characteristics common to most owl species, see owl physiology.]
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.
Size: Female: Length 34-40cm (13.5-15.5") Wingspan 110cm (43")
Weight 570g (20oz)
Male: Length 32-38cm (12.5-15") Wingspan 107cm (42") Weight 470g (15.5oz)
Habits: 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.
Voice: 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
Hunting & Food: Barn Owls specialise in hunting small ground mammals,
and the vast majority of their food consists of small rodents. Voles (field mice) are an important food item, as well as pocket gophers, shrews, mice 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.
Breeding: 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.
Mortality: Barn Owls are short-lived birds. Most die in their
first year of life, with the average life expectancy being 1 to 2 years in the
wild. In North America
the oldest known Barn Owl in the wild lived to be 11 years, 6 months. In Holland,
a wild barn owl lived
to be 17 years, 10 months old.
In England, a captive female barn owl was retired from breeding at 25 years old!
Habitat: The Barn Owl is found in virtually all habitats but much more
abundantly in open woodland, heaths and moors than forested country. They usually roost by
day in tree hollows but have also been found in caves, wells, out-buildings or thick
Distribution: The Barn Owl is one of the most wide-spread of all land
birds. They are found on all continents (except Antarctica) and large islands and occur
over the whole of Australia, including Tasmania. They occur throughout most of Britain and
Europe and across many parts of Asia, Africa, and in much of North America. In South
America they are found in areas of suitable grassland, as well as on oceanic islands such
as the Galapagos. They were introduced to Hawaii in 1958.
Distribution of the Common Barn Owl Tyto alba
Status: Generally common, varies with continent.
Original Description: Scopoli, Giovanni Antonio. 1769. Annus I-(V) Historio-Naturalis, p. 21-22.
T. a. alba,
T. a. guttata,
T. a. ernesti,
T. a. affinis,
T. a. schmitzi,
T. a. gracilirostris,
T. a. detorta,
T. a. thomensis,
T. a. hypermetra,
T. a. erlangeri,
T. a. stertens,
T. a. javanica,
T. a. sumbaensis,
T. a. delicatula,
T. a. meeki,
T. a. crassirostris,
T. a. interposita,
T. a. lulu,
T. a. pratincola,
T. a. lucayana,
T. a. furcata,
T. a. glaucops,
T. a. nigrescens,
T. a. insularis,
T. a. guatemalae,
T. a. contempta,
T. a. subandeana,
T. a. hellmayri,
T. a. bargei,
T. a. tuidara,
T. a. punctatissima,
T. a. poensis,
T. a. bondi,
T. a. niveicauda,
T. a. hauchecorni
Campbell, Wayne. 1994. "Know Your Owls (CD-ROM)". Axia Wildlife
Page compiled by Deane P. Lewis. Page last updated 2012-08-13
OwlPages.com Owl Species ID: 010.130.000
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