Barn owl

The barn owl is the oldest branch of the order of owls, which can be seen from the richness and diversity of fossil forms. Unusual appearance significantly distinguishes the bird from other owls. You can verify this by looking at the face of the barn owl. It can be compared with a mask, with a monkey's face, or with a heart. The bird has many nicknames that are reflected in folk art. The barn owl lives close to people and is not afraid of the neighborhood, which allows you to keep this predator in the house.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: barn owl

Photo: barn owl

The barn owl was first described in 1769 by the Tyrolean physician and naturalist D. Scopoli. He gave the feathered name Strix alba. As more species of owls were described, the genus name Strix began to be used exclusively for tree owls typical of the Strigidae family, and the barn owl became Tyto alba. The name literally means “white owl”, translated from ancient Greek. The bird is known by many common names that refer to its appearance, sounds, habitat, or creepy and quiet flight.

Video: Barn owl

Based on DNA evidence, the barn owl (T. furcata) and the Curaçao barn owl (T. bargei) have been recognized as separate species. It has also been suggested that T. a. delicatula has been identified as a separate species known as the eastern barn owl. However, the International Ornithological Committee doubts this and states that the separation of Tyto delicatula from T. alba “may need to be revised”.

Some island subspecies are sometimes considered by scientists as separate species, but this should be confirmed by further observations. Mitochondrial DNA analysis demonstrates a split into two species, Old World alba and New World furcata, but this study did not include T. a. delicatula, which has also been identified as a separate species. A large amount of genetic variation has been found between the Indonesian T. stertens and other members of the order alba.

The barn owl has a wider distribution than any other species of owl. Many subspecies have been proposed over the years, but some are generally considered to be interdependent between different populations. Island forms are mostly miniature, unlike mainland forms, and in forest forms, plumage is much darker, wings are shorter than those found in open pastures.

Appearance and Features

Photo: Barn owl

Photo: What a barn owl looks like

A barn owl — It is a light-colored, medium-sized owl with elongated wings and a square, short tail. There are significant differences in body length between the subspecies, with a full range of 29 to 44 cm across the species. The wingspan ranges from 68 to 105 cm. The body weight of an adult also varies from 224 to 710 g.

Interesting fact: As a rule, barn owls living on small islands are smaller and lighter, perhaps because they are more dependent on insect prey and need to be more agile. However, the largest species of barn owl from Cuba and Jamaica is also an island representative.

Tail shape — this is an opportunity to distinguish a barn owl from an ordinary owl in the air. Other distinguishing features are the undulating flight pattern and the drooping, feathered legs. The pale, heart-shaped face and unblinking black eyes give the flying bird its characteristic appearance, like a flat mask with huge slanting black slits for the eyes. The head is large and rounded, without ear tufts.

Barn owls have rounded wings and a short tail covered with white or light brown down feathers. The back and head of the bird are light brown with variable black and white spots. Underside — grayish white. The appearance of these owls is very unusual. Ornithologists list 16 species, and the species Tyto alba has 35 subspecies, which are distinguished based on differences in size and coloration. On average, within the same population, males have fewer blotches below and are paler than females. The chicks are covered in white down, but the distinctive facial shape becomes visible shortly after hatching.

Where does the barn owl live?

Photo: Barn owl

Photo: Barn Owl

barn owl — the most common land birds, settled on all continents except Antarctica. Its range includes all of Europe (except Fennoscandia and Malta), from the south of Spain to the south of Sweden and to the east of Russia. In addition, the range occupies most of Africa, the Indian subcontinent, some Pacific islands, to which they were brought to control rodents, as well as America, Asia, and Australia. Birds are sedentary and many individuals, having settled in a certain place, remain there even when nearby places for feeding are vacated.

The barn owl (T. alba) has a vast range. It lives in Europe, as well as in Africa, Asia, New Guinea, Australia and America, excluding the northern regions of Alaska and Canada.


  • ash-faced barn owl (T. glaucops ) – endemic to Haiti;
  • Cape barn owl (T. capensis) – located in Central and South Africa;
  • Madagascar variety is located in Madagascar;
  • the range of black-brown (T. nigrobrunnea) and Australian (T. novaehollandiae) covers New Guinea and part of Australia;
  • T. multipunctata – Australian endemic;
  • golden barn owl (T. aurantia) – endemic to Fr. New Britain;
  • T. manusi – about. Manus;
  • T. nigrobrunnea – about. Sula;
  • T. sororcula – about. Tanimbar;
  • The Sulawesian (T. rosenbergii) and Minahasian (T. inexpectata) live in Sulawesi.

Barn owls occupy a wide range of habitats from rural to urban. They are commonly found at low elevations in open habitats such as grasslands, deserts, swamps, and agricultural fields. They require nesting sites such as hollow trees, depressions in rocks and river banks, caves, church steeples, barns, etc. The presence of appropriate nesting objects limits the use of suitable feeding habitat.

What does a barn owl eat?

Photo: Barn owl in flight

Photo: Barn owl in flight

They are nocturnal predators that prefer small mammals. Barn owls begin to hunt alone after sunset. To detect a moving target, they developed very sensitive vision in low light. However, when hunting in total darkness, the owl relies on keen hearing to catch prey. Barn owls are the most accurate birds when searching for prey by sound. Another trait that aids in successful hunting is their fluffy feathers, which help muffle sound when moving.

An owl can approach its prey almost unnoticed. Barn owls attack their prey with low flights (1.5-5.5 meters above the ground), capture prey with their legs and beat the back of the skull with their beak. They then consume the prey whole. Barn owls prepare food supplies, especially during the breeding season.

The main diet of the barn owl consists of:

  • shrews;
  • mice;
  • voles;
  • rats;
  • hares;
  • rabbits;
  • muskrats;
  • small birds.

The barn owl hunts by flying slowly and scanning the ground. She may use branches, fences, or other vantage points to scan the area. The bird has long wide wings, which allows it to maneuver and turn sharply. Her legs and fingers are long and thin. This helps to forage among dense foliage or under snow. Studies have shown that a particular barn owl eats one or more voles per night, which corresponds to about twenty-three percent of the bird's body weight.

Small prey are torn into pieces and eaten completely, while larger prey, over 100 g, are dismembered and the inedible parts are discarded. At the regional level, rodent-free products are used according to availability. On islands rich in birds, the barn owl diet can include 15-20% of birds.

Character and lifestyle features

Photo: Regular barn owl

Photo: Barn owl

Barn owls stay awake at night, relying on keen hearing in complete darkness. They become active shortly before sunset, and are sometimes seen during the day as they move from one roosting site to another. Sometimes they may hunt during the day if the previous night was wet and difficult to hunt.

Barn owls are not particularly territorial birds, but have a specific home range in which they forage. For males in Scotland, this is an area with a radius of about 1 km from the nesting site. The range of the female largely coincides with those of the partner. Outside of the breeding season, males and females usually sleep separately. Each individual has about three places to hide during the day and visit for short periods during the night.

These places include:

  • tree holes;
  • crevices in rocks;
  • abandoned buildings;
  • chimneys;
  • stacks of hay, etc.

As the breeding season approaches, the birds return to the vicinity of the chosen nest to roost. Barn owls are feathered in open areas, such as agricultural land or pastures with some areas of woodland, at altitudes below 2000 meters. This owl prefers to hunt along the edges of the forest or in the strips of coarse grass adjacent to the pasture.

Like most owls, the barn owl soars silently, the tiny serrations on the leading edges of the feathers and the hair-like band on the trailing edges help to cut through the air currents, thereby reducing turbulence and the noise that accompanies it. Bird behavior and ecological preferences may differ slightly even among neighboring subspecies.

Social Structure and Reproduction

Photo: Barn owl chick

Photo: Barn owl chick

Barn owls are monogamous birds, although there are reports of polygamy. Pairs stay together as long as both individuals are alive. Courtship begins with the demonstration of flights by males, which are reinforced by sound accompaniment and pursuit of the female. The male will also hover in the air in front of a sitting female for a few seconds.

Copulation occurs every few minutes while looking for a nest. Both sexes squat in front of each other to produce copulation. The male climbs onto the female, grabs her by the neck and balances with spread wings. Copulation continues at a decreasing frequency throughout the incubation and rearing of the chicks.

Barn owls breed once a year. They can breed at almost any time of the year, depending on the diet. Most individuals begin breeding at the age of 1 year. Due to the short lifespan of barn owls (2 years on average), most individuals only breed once or twice. As a rule, barn owls raise one brood per year, although some pairs grow up to three broods in one year.

Fun fact: Barn owl females leave the nest during incubation only on short time and at long intervals. During this time, the male feeds the incubating female. She stays in the nest until the chicks are about 25 days old. Males bring food to the nest for the female and chicks, but only the female feeds the young, initially breaking the food into small pieces.

Barn owls often use an old nest that has been occupied for decades instead of building a new one. The female usually lines the nest with crushed granules. She lays 2 to 18 eggs (usually 4 to 7) at the rate of one egg every 2-3 days. The female incubates the eggs for 29 to 34 days. The chicks hatch and are fed by the female after hatching. They leave the nest 50–70 days after hatching, but return to the nest to roost. They become completely independent from their parents 3-5 weeks after they start flying.

Now you know what barn owl chicks look like. Let's see how the owl lives in the wild.

Natural enemies of the barn owl

Photo: Barn owl bird

Photo: Barn owl bird

Barn owls have few predators. Chicks are sometimes caught by stoats and snakes. There is also some evidence that the horned owl occasionally preys on adults. Barn owl subspecies in the western Palearctic are much smaller than in North America. These subspecies are sometimes hunted by golden eagles, red kites, vultures, peregrine falcons, falcons, eagle owls.

When facing the intruder, barn owls spread their wings and tilt them so that their dorsal surface is directed towards the intruder. Then they shake their heads back and forth. This display of threat is accompanied by hisses and bills that are given by squinted eyes. If the attacker continues the attack, the owl falls on its back and kicks it.

Known Predators:

  • ferrets;
  • snakes;
  • golden eagles;
  • red kites;
  • northern hawks;
  • common buzzards;
  • peregrine falcons;
  • Mediterranean falcon;
  • eagle owl;
  • opossum;
  • tawny owl;
  • eagles;
  • virgian eagle owl .

Sirukhas are hosts to a wide range of parasites. Fleas are present at nesting sites. They are also attacked by lice and feather mites, which are transmitted from bird to bird through direct contact. Blood-sucking flies such as Ornithomyia avicularia are often present and move among the plumage. Internal parasites include Fluke Strigea strigis, the tapeworm Paruternia candelabraria, several parasitic roundworms, and spiny worms from the genus Centrorhynchus. These intestinal parasites are acquired when birds feed on infected prey.

Population and species status

Photo: What a barn owl looks like

Photo: Barn owl

This species has had stable demographic trends for the past 40 years in America. The population trend in Europe is assessed as fluctuating. Today, European populations are estimated at 111,000-230,000 pairs, corresponding to 222,000-460,000 mature individuals. Europe is approximately 5% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of 4,400,000–9,200,000 mature individuals worldwide is therefore needed, although further verification of this estimate is needed.

On modern farms, there are no longer enough farm buildings for nesting, and farmland can no longer support enough rodents to support a pair of barn owls. Owl populations, however, are only declining in some places, not across their entire range.

Fun Fact: Unique subspecies that have small island populations are also at risk due to their restricted range. distribution.

The barn owl is responding to climate change, pesticides and changing agricultural practices. Unlike other birds, they do not store excess body fat as a reserve for harsh winter weather. As a result, many owls die in freezing weather or are too weak to breed the next spring. Pesticides have also contributed to the decline of this species. For reasons unknown, barn owls suffer more severely from the effects of pesticide use than other owl species. These pesticides are often responsible for eggshell thinning.

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