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The barn owl, a common nocturnal bird of open farmland in the early 1900s, has become a declining population in many areas. The increasing losses of habitat, food supply and nesting areas have affected the barn owl to the point of it now being considered threatened or endangered by a number of states.

Tyto alba is the scientific name for the barn owl and combines the Greek word for owl with alba, the Latin word for white. The common name comes from its adaptation to nesting places in old barns and abandoned buildings. Barn owls have been very beneficial to farmers, by preying on small rodents regarded as agricultural pests. The birds also nest in tree cavities, ledges and caves near open meadows and pastures.

This owl has a distinctive appearance, with its heart-shaped face, off-white feathers, buff speckles and dark streaks. Its keen vision, excellent hearing, flexible neck, talons and hooked beak, enable the bird to successfully prey on small rodents, its primary source of food. The barn owl has wing feathers that muffle the sound of its flight. It also has special ear openings and an arrangement of feathers that enable the bird to hear prey in the dark.

Although barn owls are normally inactive during daylight hours, they will hunt at that time to feed young in the nest. The birds make a number of characteristic sounds, including hissing noises, screams, grunts and clicking.

    The owl's eyes, located in the front of the head, have depth perception. Barn owls can see during the daytime, but also have exceptional night vision. The bird is about 20 inches long and generally weighs 1.5 pounds. As an adult, its wingspan can exceed 45 inches. The barn owl is usually not migratory. The owl must regularly regurgitate indigestible parts of its prey, as small compressed pellets, before it can eat again.

    The barn owls' nest is a mat of organic debris created by the pellets along with a few feathers and can be reused. The nest may contain from several to over ten eggs, produced at different intervals, resulting in nestlings of different sizes. When the female barn owl begins incubation, the male feeds her, guarding both her and the eggs. After the eggs hatch, the parents feed their nestlings until the birds are ready to fly. The young owls stay with the parents for several months after fledging.

The preservation of open land habitat and providing artificial nesting sites are several ways that states, conservationists, farmers and school children have worked to help the barn owl populations, seldom seen birds of the rural landscape.


Barn Owl