Barn owl chicks are naked when they hatch, but they quickly develop a very thin covering of down. They are still unable to keep themselves warm at this early age so the female broods them until the eldest is around three weeks old. When they are uncovered they make a soft, chittering sound.
The male supports his family by bringing food, which the female rips into tiny pieces to feed to her growing young. By three weeks old an owlet can swallow a shrew or small mouse whole – they can feed themselves at this stage so squabbles over food become more common. At this stage the chick’s birth down is replaced by a thicker down. This frees up the female to help the male with hunting duties.
By five weeks old the chicks can run, jump, pounce, hiss and click their tongues. They typically move their heads from side to side, round and round, even upside down! Their characteristic heart-shaped face appears, and the flight feathers can be seen underneath the white fluffy down.
Wing flapping exercises begin at about seven weeks and by eight to nine weeks old the owlets make their first short flights. They remain around the nest site for a further two to three weeks before they finally disperse.