Saturday, September 7, 2013
Bestiary Journal: Tyto alba, The Barn Owl
This week's bestiary journal is on the common barn owl. Above is a Barn Owl, named Willie I work with at the Black Prairie Raptor Center. He is an education bird because he was imprinted on humans and has a permanent broken wing.
According to my research on the barn owl, this particular bird seems to be the most wide spread of all birds, appearing in most countries on most continents, with many subspecies. It is known by many names, most of them attributed to their appearance, habitat or the way they fly so silently through the night. Some of those names are, Silver Owl, Demon Owl, Ghost Owl, Monkey-faced Owl, Hissing Owl, Golden Owl and even Hobgoblin.
The Barn Owls face has a unique shape and color which distinguishes it from other owls. It has no ear tufts, and the dark eyes and beak are encircled by a heart-shaped facial ruff of white, rimmed with tan, giving it an odd and startling appearance. The Barn Owl is one of the few bird species where the female is showier than the male, she has a more reddish chest than the male and is more spotted, as well. Apparently, the heavily spotted chest of the female is a stimulus to the male and indicates that the female is healthy, she gets fewer diseases and may even be more resistant to parasites.
The Barn Owl does not make a hooting sound, rather it produces a shree scream and it can hiss like a snake when it is trying to scare intruders. If cornered or captured it will throw itself on its back and flail with its sharp taloned feet.
The Barn Owl has excellent night-vision and acute hearing and can find its prey easily, by sound alone if necessary, finding mice hidden by vegetation or snow and in complete darkness. Its ears are placed asymmetrically and this helps to improve the detection of sound position and distance so that the owl does not need to see to hunt.
The Barn Owl eats relatively more food compared to other owls, making it one of the most economically valuable wildlife animals to farmers. Farmers find these owls more effective than poison against destructive rodents and so provide nesting sites for them.
Nocturnal,they wait until dark to start hunting. The only thing bringing them out earlier would be to feed their young. The Barn Owl is a bird of open country, and sweeps fields silently on the wing, catching its prey in its long talons, preferring small mammals like mice and gophers, but it will eat anything it can that is more than a beak-full, usually torn into chunks and eaten completely, bones and all.
The Barn Owl will nest in old buildings, the hollows of old trees and even on or in the ground, although they do not build a nest, they do scrape together some debris. Anytime prey is abundant will usually cause the Barn Owls to begin nesting. A couple of owls can have four or five young in their nest at a time. The young owlets are covered with snow-white down for the first six days, but it is replaced by a buff-colored down which lasts for about fifty days. The young are hungry all the time, and they keep their parents busy finding food. After about eight weeks the young start to venture out of the nest.
If you ever come across a barn owlet leave it alone, parents are nearby. And if you come across a wounded bird call a bird rehab center or animal control. Never raise a wild bird as a pet. It is illegal and will do more harm than good.