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All About Barn Owls: The Facts
I’ve learned a lot about barn owls over years of studying them for my paintings and so I’ve listed the essential barn owl facts for you here.
Barn Owl (Tyto Alba)
Barn Owl Facts: Appearance
The sight of a barn owl gliding over hedgerows is an iconic countryside image. Known as white owls, barn owls have pure white underbellies, golden, buff-coloured wings, and heart-shaped faces.
Barn Owl Facts: Size
These beautiful white owls are medium-sized predators, averaging about 36cm in length with a wingspan between 80-95cm. But for their size and wingspan, these birds are actually light-weights. An adult barn owl only weighs about 330gs (females are usually heavier at about 360gs), however their lightness means that they are able to soar and glide through the air for long periods of time.
Barn Owl Facts: Adaptations
They also have very long legs, toes, and talons. These features are adaptations which mean they can reach their prey under long tussocks of grass. The length of a barn owl’s legs also gives it the advantage of a long reach in fights with other birds. Watch the video below to see how this barn owl stretches out its long talons to grab the kestrel.
Barn Owl Facts: Hearing and Eyesight
Like many owls, barn owls have super-sensitive hearing. They can hear the tiniest rustle in the undergrowth and their heart-shaped faces collect and direct this sound so that they can locate the mouse or vole making the noise. Barn owls also have lop-sided ears, with one located higher than the other, to pinpoint noise. They also have excellent eyesight and can spot a mouse in a very gloomy barn.
Barn Owl Facts: Flight
A barn owl’s flight is almost soundless, making it a stealthy predator. It has broad, rounded wings with a high surface area which means it can glide for long period times without the need to flap. A barn owl’s primary flight feathers also have a serrated leading edge to disrupt turbulence and muffle noise.
Barn Owl Facts: Feathers
Barn Owl feathers are super soft so that they can hunt silently, but they are not very waterproof and get soaked if it rains. Prolonged spells of heavy rain or snow can be very dangerous for barn owls since they cannot fly to hunt.
Barn Owl Facts: Males vs Females
It is very difficult to tell the difference between males and females when they are in flight. But when perched the differences are clearer. Females often have darker brown feathers around the rim of the facial disc as well as darker bars on the tail and small black spots on the chest and underside of the wings. Males are generally lighter and a more pure white underneath.
Barn Owl Facts: Calls
Barn owls don’t hoot. They screech. The sound is quite eerie and so distinctive that in some parts of the world they are known as screech owls. Barn owl chicks, in contrast, make a soft, chittering sound from the moment they hatch. When a barn owl senses danger it makes a ‘clacking’ sound. Listen to this sound here:
Barn Owl Facts: Diet
Barn Owls eat mostly voles. They will also catch shrews, mice, moles, and, occasionally, small rats. They usually swallow their food whole and the bits of fur and bone that they cannot digest are later regurgitated (coughed up) as an owl pellet. They are actually quite tidy eaters. The photograph below shows an owl tucking in the ruff of feathers below its beak to keep it clean as it eats.
Barn Owl Facts: Habitat & Range
Barn owls are one of the most widely distributed birds. They prefer open habitats and in the UK hunt over rough grasslands. They can be found everywhere around the world apart from the polar and desert regions.
Barn Owl Facts: Survival
Barn owls are not very hardy birds and their survival, especially in cold northern regions, is fragile. During prolonged spells of bad weather, their numbers can be affected dramatically.
Barn Owl Facts: Keeping Warm
When cold, a barn owl will lift one leg up into the warmth of its body feathers.
Barn Owl Facts: Courtship
Barn owls are usually monogamous, staying faithful to their partner until one of them dies. They often use the same nest site every year and have an elaborate courtship ritual to re-establish the pair bond every spring.
Barn Owl Facts: Lifespan
Barn owls can live for up to four years in the wild.
Barn Owl Facts: Nests
Barn owls nest in farm buildings as well as churches, sheds and natural hollows in trees. They do not build nests but lay their eggs in scrapes, normally on a ledge in an old building or an isolated tree. They tend to return to the same nest site year after year and will re-establish the nest by simply making a shallow scratch.
Barn Owl Facts: Egg-laying
Unlike other birds, which usually incubate their eggs as soon as the clutch is complete, barn owl females begin to sit as soon as the first egg is laid. They can lay eggs every two or three days. Normally between four and seven eggs are laid over an eight to 21 day period.
Barn Owl Facts: Brooding
The average brood size is 3.6, but this figure can vary from zero up to seven and occasionally even more. Clutch and brood size are directly related to food supply.
Barn Owl Facts: Hatching
Each egg hatches after about 31 days incubation, so by the time the last egg hatches the eldest owlet may be three weeks old. The difference in size between chicks can be alarming.
Barn Owl Facts: Moulting
A female barn owl can be sitting on her eggs for up to nine weeks. During this time she moults her primary feathers. This is unusual in the avian world as most species moult once the breeding season is over.
Barn Owl Facts: Second Broods
About 10pc of pairs will breed twice in one year. Second clutches are normally laid in July, usually in an alternative nest place at the same site or nearby.