American Barn Owls

Scientific Name: Tyto alba. Their latin name translates to “White Owl.”

Description: Barn Owls are very pale in color on their face and belly, ranging from cream to white, sometimes sporting small black spots on their belly/chest. Their wings, back and tail have a mottled buff and grey coloring with some white speckles throughout. The surrounding facial disc feathers give their head a slightly heart-shaped appearance. There is a slight variation in shades, but the basic color pattern will remain the same. These are fairly small owls, ranging from 400-700 grams in weight. Their wingspan ranges from 39-49 inches from wingtip to wingtip.

Behavior: American Barn Owls are mostly a nocturnal species, active mostly at night. Some individuals may be crepuscular, meaning active mostly at dawn and dusk, based on when their prey is active. However, Barn Owls can be found world-wide and will range between a variety of activity levels and times. They are secondary cavity nesters and get their name from their affinity to nest in the roofing beams of barns. Barn Owls will also nest in cavities of trees or other small, hollowed out places. They do not hoot; instead Barn Owls make a variety of screeches, chitters and trills. These pale owls fly through the woods making high-pitched screeches – it is easy to see how people often thought they were ghosts or banshees in the past! Their silent flight also added to the illusion that they were supernatural beings. The fringed edges of their feathers, called fluting, allows air to pass through the edge of the feather. This in turn causes less air resistance and muffles any sounds that would have been made. These owls can have anywhere from 2-18 eggs per clutch and may lay up to 3 clutches a year!

Diet: Barn Owls mostly hunt small mammals, such as mice, voles and rats. Sometimes they will also hunt small birds and reptiles. When nesting, adult Barn Owls will store small prey items in the nest so that there is plenty of food for the owlets when they hatch! 

Range: Barn Owls can be found on every continent except for Antarctica. The American subspecies of Barn Owl can be found across most of the USA and Central America.

Conservation: Since American Barn Owls are primarily active at dusk/night and will hide when they see humans, maintaining an exact account of population numbers has been difficult for scientists. Barn Owls are considered “least concern” and are thriving in many parts of North America, but certain areas have seen a decline as of late. This may be due to the loss of habitat and use of pesticides. Pesticides do not kill rodents immediately and they can often be caught by Barn Owls, who are then also poisoned. They are also often a victim of car collisions, as Barn Owls usually fly very low as compared to other birds of prey.

How you can help: When driving at night, stay aware of any animals attempting to cross a road or near a road. Make sure any trash (whether it be food, plastic or more) is properly disposed into a trash bin and not tossed on the side of a road. Littering food and items that could smell like food attracts small animals (prey to the Barn owl) to the side of the road. Using humane traps instead of pesticides for rodents can help make sure that Barn Owls do not eat rodents that have been poisoned. Electric traps can also be used and are designed to help make sure only rodents will enter the trap. Sticky traps and snap traps often catch more than what they were intended to and can cause harm to a large number of animals. 

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