Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
The Barn Owl is a pale, long-winged, long-legged owl. Generally a medium-sized owl, there is considerable size variation across the subspecies. The facial disc is white with a brown edge, and with a brownish wash between the lower edge of the eyes and the base of the whitish-pink bill. Eyes are brownish-black. The crown and upperparts are yellowish-brown to orange-buff, covered partly by a pale ashy-grey veil marked with scattered white spots surrounded by black. The tail is similar, with a few darker bars and with white dots near the tips of the feathers. Underparts are whitish or pure white with a few small, dark drop-shaped spots (often more on females). Legs are feathered white nearly to the base of the mostly bare toes, which are pale greyish-brown and dirty yellowish underneath. Claws are brownish-black. Their body is 12-16 inches in length, wingspan of 39-49 inches and body weight of 14-28 ounces.
The Barn Owl are one of the most widely found owls and are found in all continents except Antarctica. Up to 46 different races of the Barn Owl have been described worldwide. The North American form is the largest, weighing more than twice as much as the smallest race from the Galapagos Islands.
In North America Barn Owls live in open habitats across most of the lower 48 United States and extend into a few parts of southern Canada. These include grasslands, deserts, marshes, agricultural fields, strips of forest, woodlots, ranchlands, brushy fields, and suburbs and cities.
For the most part they are nocturnal, which makes getting really good Barn Owl pictures difficult. They are often seen coming out just at dusk or just at dawn. During the day they often rest in out of the way places making them difficult to find and photograph.
( Note: Like all nocturnal owls this daytime resting period of very important to them to remain healthy. So when taking owl photographs try to disturb them as little as possible.
Take your photographs as quickly and quietly as possible and then leave them to continue their resting. If there are any branches obstructing your shot do not remove them. This is especially important with the smaller owls. These branches are camouflage and protection from larger birds of prey that look upon them as a meal.)
Barn Owls mainly hunt small rodents like, voles, mice, moles, shrews, rats or baby rabbits. But they will also feed on bats, birds, insects and lizards. They hunt by standing on perches and scanning their territory for movement. Another method is to glide up and down fields looking down for prey. The Barn Owl has excellent low-light vision, and can easily find prey at night by sight. But its ability to locate prey by sound alone is the best of any animal that has ever been tested. It can catch mice in complete darkness, or hidden by vegetation or snow.
The Barn Owl can breed at any time of the year and can have two clutches depending on food supply. Nest can be found in hollow trees, old buildings or even caves. Between 3-6 eggs are in the normal sizes clutches, but on rodent invasion years numbers can increase even up to 12. Eggs incubate for 30-34 days. Chicks are covered in white down and brooded for about 2 weeks, and are fledged in 50 to 55 days. They will remain in the vicinity for a week or so to learn hunting skills and then rapidly disperse from the nest area. Young birds are able to breed at about 10 months.
References: Cornell Labs of Ornithology, The Owl Pages