Barn Owl

Close up portrait of Barn Owl

Scientific Name: Tyto alba

Size: 30 to 39 cm

What does it look like?

The Barn Owl is moderately common, but generally hard to see, as they are mostly active at night. During the day the birds roost on concealed tree branches. They are the most widespread and familiar of the owls. Barn Owls are medium sized, (females slightly larger than males), with a ‘heart-shaped’ facial disc. They have sandy orange upperparts and white to cream underparts. Both the back and breast are evenly spotted with black. Birds often appear whiter than normal when illuminated in car headlights or torches. Young birds are similar to adults in plumage.

Barn Owls are generally quiet, the common call being a 1 to 2 second rough, hissing screech. Less frequently, birds give whistling and wheezing notes and some snapping and bill clacking during mating and threat displays.

When threatened, the Barn Owl crouches down and spreads its wings.

Where is it found?

The species is found throughout Australia. Its distribution is limited only by habitat and food availability. Subspecies of the Barn Owl are found on every continent in the world except Antarctica.

What are its habitats & habits?

By day the Barn Owl roosts in hollow logs, caves or thickly foliated trees, and is usually seen alone or in pairs. The preferred habitat is open, often arid (dry) country, such as farms, heath and lightly wooded forest.

Barn Owls feed mostly on small mammals, mainly rodents, and birds, but some insects, frogs and lizards are also eaten. One of the more favoured foods is the introduced house mouse, Mus musculus. Barn Owls hunt in flight, searching for prey on the ground using their exceptional hearing. The heart-shaped structure of the facial disc is unique to these types of owls (tyto owls). The slightest sound waves are channelled toward the ears, allowing the owl to pinpoint prey even in complete darkness.

Barn Owls have no definite breeding season. Breeding takes place mostly in response to food availability and is often twice per year. The nest is normally a hollow in a tree, but birds sometimes nest in caves or abandoned buildings. The entrance hole is usually 15 to 25 m above the ground, though the nest chamber may be up to 10 metres down. No nest material is used, except a few old pellets. A typical clutch consists of 3 to 6, rarely up to 12, pale white eggs, which are laid at 2-day intervals. The female alone incubates the eggs, but both parents care for the young. The young leave the nest 7 to 10 days after hatching, but will perch in the vicinity of the nest site and be fed by the adults for a further month or so.


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Front cover of Australia's Birdwatching Megaspots book showing a picture of an Eastern Spinebill

This species features in my book Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots

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