Barn owls are great hunters

If you have lived all your life in the north, you very likely have never seen a barn owl. They are found only in the most southern parts of Ontario and a very few other provinces, as well.
What does a barn owl look like? Well, it is quite different from the common owls found here in the north. It is sort of skinny, a thin body, and its legs and feet look as if they have no feathers (they do have a few, but they are very small).
It is quite light-coloured, with its back and wings being light brown. Its face is very distinctly heart-shaped and is almost white, with dark edges.
Lots of owls hunt in the daytime, but not this one. He does all his work in the dark.
This owl has wonderful vision, as do most owls. He has only about 180 degrees of vision straight ahead, but he can swivel his head through about 180 degrees as well, which gives him almost full sight every way.
His hunting has another great advantage—his hearing. It is so good, he can catch mice in total darkness (which no other owl can). The barn owl can hear the slightest sound made by a mouse or vole, and he can pinpoint exactly where his prey is, too.
Many tests have been done to prove the barn owl can hunt by sound alone.
This is a “silent” hunter. Like all owls, his wings have fringed edges, so they make no sound in flight.
The barn owl doesn’t hoot, either. Mostly, it makes soft, wheezy calls, but it also can scream. Young ones hiss a lot.
Like some other birds, the barn owl starts incubating its eggs as they are laid. Since it often has eight or nine eggs, the incubation period may total about 30 days.
The oldest chicks are quite well developed before the last one is even hatched. The young, as well as hissing, make a “snoring” sound to warn strangers to keep away.
The barn owl is a sloppy housekeeper. Its “nest” is just a flat place in a building, or the bottom of a hole in an old tree. Barns, of course, old houses, corn cribs, and church steeples are all fair game for this bird.
In the south, there is a program to help re-instate barn owls, which have become very scarce in the last 30 years or so.
This is mainly because of a change in farming. There is a lot less hay and pasture land, and more intensive farming—which is not so friendly to mice and voles.
“Clean” farming doesn’t favour small mammals at all.
A “recovery” program is now in place in the south—more in the southwestern part of the province than anywhere else. This consists of a lot of things, such as returning abandoned farmland to grass.
Putting up nest boxes is another (barn owls seem to like them). In some places, owls are released.
Some of the measures used are beneficial to other species as well—Bobwhite, badgers, short-eared owls, some sparrows, and so on.
The barn owl is one of the best predators of mice and voles that we have. It is such a good hunter that people say one owl is worth a dozen cats when it comes to catching mice.
Its ability to catch prey in total darkness—with silent flight—is not matched by any other birds.
The barn owl is the rarest of owls in Ontario, and only in the southern fringes of the province at that. Once in a while, there is a report of a sighting—even as far north as Rainy River. But that is just an accident (one bird getting lost, or blown up here by the wind, something like that).
Barn owls are found on all the continents of the world (except Antarctica). They are especially common in Britain and Europe, where there are a lot of old buildings, particularly barns.
Wherever they are, barn owls need lots of grassy fields where the mice are happy. A barn owl can eat his own weight in little animals in one night.
The barn owl (Tyto alba) has only one real enemy, and that, strangely enough, is his relative—the Great Horned Owl.

Posted in Uncategorized