33 - 39cm
80 - 95cm
224 - 710g
1 - 4 yrs
The barn owl is one of the most globally widespread birds, with at least 28 distinct subspecies found almost everywhere in the world but the most extreme desert and polar regions. Its Latin name literally means “white owl”, although many darker variants now exist. It is sometimes known as the ghost owl, death owl or demon owl, due to its eerie, silent flight.
The head and upper body is brown with fine black-and-white speckles. Its heart-shaped face is usually bright white with the underparts varying from white to reddish buff. The beak may be pale horn to dark buff and the talons range from pink to dark pinkish-grey. Males tend to have fewer spots on the underside and are paler in colour than females.
What Does it Look Like?
What Does it Sound Like?
Contrary to popular belief, this owl does not hoot. It instead produces an eerie, drawn-out shriek which – combined with its pale colouration - is thought to have inspired belief in ghosts and wraiths. Both young and old can hiss like a snake to scare away intruders, but when pressured into a defensive position may produce clicking snaps with their tongue.
It preys on small rodents such as voles, shrews and mice, which comprise 90% of its diet. In fact, some farmers find these owls more effective than poison in controlling rodent pests. Occasionally, they eat flying prey such as bats and birds, and have also been known to take lizards, amphibians and insects. They hunt by flying slowly and silently.
What Does it Eat?
Where Does it Nest?
As cavity nesters, they use holes in trees, cliff faces, or old buildings like barns or churches. The female shreds her regurgitated pellets to make a nest around the chalky-white eggs, which are laid in clutches of about five. While she sits on the nest, the male brings more food. The incubation period is about thirty days and chicks are fully fledged after nine weeks.
The barn owl occurs in every continent except Antarctica, particularly across Europe, most of Africa and Central and South America. It lives in open country such as farmland or grassland, provided there is some interspersed woodland. This is because it prefers to hunt along the edges of woods or adjoining pasture, where prey is likely to hide.
Where Does it Live?
What is its Status?
Although not yet considered globally threatened, some populations have been affected by intensive farming practices, which cause habitat loss. A lack of suitable nesting sites may also be a limiting factor, so nest boxes are popular among conservationists who motivate land owners to install them for use as natural rodent control.
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