American Barn Owl
Tyto alba furcata
34 - 44cm
0.9 - 1m
375 - 700g
1 - 4 yrs
The American barn owl is officially accepted as one of many subspecies of the barn owl (Tyto alba). However, some believe it may be a distinct species (Tyto furcata) based on DNA evidence, perhaps due to its slightly different size and shape. As its name suggests, it is native to North and South America, but has also been introduced to Hawaii.
Like all barn owls, its most distinctive feature is its white heart-shaped facial disc in which its dark, black eyes are set. Compared to its European counterpart, this subspecies is much darker overall, with deeper brown or grey colouration on its back and wings and much heavier black speckling on the chest, particularly notable in females.
What Does it Look Like?
What Does it Sound Like?
Despite not being especially vocal, barn owl species are known for their sinister screech which has inspired folk names such as the “hissing owl”. In fact, their wailing is often mistaken for the sound of fighting cats. They are also capable of twittering, which is most often used by the male as a courtship call.
It takes various local rodent species such as rats, ground squirrels or pocket gophers but predominately feeds on a combination of meadow voles and shrews. In the US specifically, these small mammals will make up 95% of its diet, with the rest being small birds or reptiles. It hunts by flying slowly, hovering over the places where prey are concealed.
What Does it Eat?
Where Does it Nest?
In North America, they nest high up in tree cavities to avoid predation by raccoons. The female lines the nest with shredded pellets before laying around 5 eggs, whilst the male stockpiles food. This stockpile is key to a high hatching success rate, which is important as many of the chicks will not survive far beyond their first birthday.
Although barn owls are found across much of the globe, this subspecies is confined to North and South America. It was introduced to the Hawaiian island of Kauai in an attempt to control rodents, but also feeds on native birds. It prefers open farmland or grassland, hunting along the edges of woods or in nearby pasture.
Where Does it Live?
What is its Status?
Due to its official classification as a subspecies, it is not offered its own conservation status by the IUCN, making it of least concern. However, DDT (pesticide) poisoning in the late 20th century affected populations to the extent that they are no longer common and they are in fact considered endangered in seven Midwestern states.
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