Everything's In A Name!The common barn owl's scientific name literally means 'white hooter'.
Barn owls, or common barn owls (Tyto alba), are easily recognizable due to their distinct heart-shaped face and dark eyes. They are a part of the eponymous family of owls, barn owls, that is one of the two major families of owls. The barn owl's habitat consists of many parts of the world, except polar and desert regions. Let's have a look at the habitat of the barn owl in detail.
What is the Habitat of the Barn Owl?
The favorite habitat of a barn owl is an open, low-lying area under 1500-2000 meters from sea level. Their habitats cover an extensive range, but do not consist of areas with low mean temperatures, and densely forested and intensively cultivated areas. Summarily, their habitat consists of grasslands, scrublands, groves, farms, fields, or towns. Barn owls can make their home in various types of sparse forests, semiarid shrubland, marshes, etc. Owls are also found in dense forests, but common barn owls usually avoid hunting in densely forested areas. They instead prefer the scantly covered edges of the forest (or farms), where their preferred meal is more readily available.
Barn owl populations around farmlands are encouraged by farmers, since they seek out damaging pests such as rats and voles, without harming the crops themselves. They are estimated to eat more pests, pound-for-pound, than any other animal. This has allowed barn owls to populate areas very close to towns and human settlements.
This adaptability has resulted in them becoming the most widely distributed owl species, and one of the most widely distributed bird species overall. Barn owls are found in North America (except Canada), Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, much of Europe, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, up to Timor. Though barn owls are found in Australia, the common barn owl isn't.
These are some of the habitats preferred and frequented by barn owls.
Savannahs and Grasslands
Arid and Semiarid Scrublands
The barn owl is a pale, long-legged, and long-winged owl. It is about 24 - 45 cm in length and has a wingspan of about 75 - 110 cm. The distinguishing feature from other types of owls, other than the heart-shaped face of the barn owls, is its tail shape. The tail has a wavering motion in flight, with open, dangling legs. The upper part of the body is light gray in most species. Some also have rich brown colors and all have black and white speckles. The heart-shaped face is bright white in color and with black eyes, with a ridge of feathers above the bill that looks like a nose.
Like all owls, barn owls have serrated flight feathers. These reduce the turbulence in the path of air, and reduce the noise produced as a result. Hence, owls can fly in an eerie silence, and can hunt without the fear of detection by their quarry. The silent flight, coupled with their humanoid faces, can frighten observers if the owls are viewed at night, or fly overhead without warning.
Diet of Barn Owls
Barn owls primarily feed on small rodents, moles, voles, etc. You may be surprised to know that a breeding pair of barn owls raising their young can eat more than 1000 rodents per year! They also prey on small birds and bats, frogs, lizards, large insects, and occasionally even fish. They can modify their diet to suit their particular location, but rodents always remain the top priority. They display many hunting tactics peculiar to owls, such as a dependence on their keen ears rather than eyes, in contrast to the popular notion.
Owls are very rarely a threat to domestic animals, another trait that endears them to farmers. They may kill an unattended small pet (mouse, gerbil, hamster, etc.) or a young chick, but such incidences are very infrequent, and mostly don't happen at all.
Ecology of Barn Owls
The barn owls are nocturnal creatures that are active shortly before dusk. They are sometimes seen during the day, if they need to find a new, comfortable sleeping place. Barn owls build nests underground in burrows or holes in embankments. They also make their home in elevated nests or burrows of other birds, steeples, or barns. If the barn owl finds no nest or a suitable site to build one, it will make do with rubbish and debris heaps. They do not build typical bird nests, but litter the base of their nest cavity with regurgitated pellets made of fur, bones, etc., of the prey they eat.
Reproduction in Barn Owls
It is common to have two broods a year in barn owls. The breeding season lasts from March to August, though they are most active in late March - early April. The broods can have 2 to 16 eggs. It is very common to find about 5 - 7 eggs in a single brood. The incubation period varies from 29 - 34 days and the young fledge at about 56 to 62 days.
Lifespan of Barn Owls
The barn owl's lifespan is very short. In the wild, most of them die in the first two years of their life. In America the oldest barn owl lived up to 11 years and 6 months. In Holland, the lifespan of the oldest barn owl was about 17 years and 10 months. A captive female barn owl in England was recorded to be 25 years old.
Barn owls are one of the rare undomesticated animals that have actually benefited from interactions with humans. The symbiotic relationship between farmers and these efficient exterminators means that barn owls continue to thrive the world over.