Barn Owl

Tyto alba

33-35cm

Appearance

Adults and juveniles are similar. The face is white and shaped in a heart, the expansive wings are white from beneath in flight, the upperparts are orangey brown with dark flecks and some grey, and the legs are long. The underparts are vivid white. Females have slightly more spotted breasts and their backs are a little more streaky.

Habitat

Prefers expansive countryside, particularly on farms and the margins of forests, but may also frequent marshes by the coast. Nesting takes place in the hollows of trees, cliffs or in human structures.

Character

Has an ambling flight, moving quite low and hovering for periods when on the hunt. Usually hunts at nighttime and alone, and when the male is courting, he feeds the female. Birds stay on the same grounds all year round.

Food

Mostly eats mammals, particularly voles, mice, shrews and rats. Diet also includes finches and thrushes, and occasionally bats and frogs.

Breeding

Female lays a clutch of 4-6 eggs and incubates them for 30 days. She begins the process with the first egg, so young may vary in age. Hatchlings learn to fly after approximately 55 days, but are not independent until 3-5 weeks of age. Female may lay two broods in a season.

Population

Majority of birds are resident and don't travel from their territory, however juveniles can move up to 50km when first leaving the nest. Approximately 4000 pairs are found in the UK and up to 1000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Populations are threatened by clearing of unused farmland and alterations in the vole population. The mostly nocturnal nature of the species can make viewing difficult too, though a flash of their white wings may be caught in headlights on country drives after dark. Barn Owls do occasionally feed in the late afternoon, close to dusk, and wetland reserves such as East Anglia may provide a sighting opportunity, especially in winter.

Voice

Makes a high-pitched shriek that can be quite alarming.
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