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barn owl, golden owl, white owl, monkey-faced owl
The barn owl is primarily white with yellow and tawny shade and it is freckles of dark specks. The eyes and beak are completely encircled by a heart-shaped facial ruff of white feathers rimmed with tan feathers.
Approximately 37.5-50 cm (15-20 in.)
Females usually are larger than males
Approximately 450-560 g (15.8-19.6 lb.)
95% of the diet is of small mammals; also occasionally feeds on small birds
Approximately 12 months
Up to 10 years, but rare
Nearly found worldwide; only absent from high latitudes
Found in a wide range of habitats
In the wild, many young barn owls do not survive their first year of life. Some scientists think this may be a result of breeding and raising large clutches more than once a year, which uses a lot of energy.
Barn owl pairs typically stay together as long as both members of the pair are alive. They do not create a nest; rather they deposit the eggs in manmade structures such as towers, barns, etc. - often using the site year after year.
Farmers and ranchers are increasingly attracted to the barn owl's ability to control rodents better than traps, poison, or cats. In some Pacific islands they have been introduced for rat control and have been provided with nest boxes in palm groves by locals for the same purpose.
Barn owls are able to consume twice as much food as other owls in comparison to their weight. They are able to cover 100 acres each night in search of food. A single barn owl offspring is able to consume 25,000 mice a year.
They are often seen in barns and agricultural fields which provide them with ample hunting sites. During the day they find an enclosed area in an old building, hollow tree, or hole in a rocky cliff and sleep away the afternoon.
Barn owls hunt at night, and although they have very good vision, they rely mostly on their sense of hearing. Owl ears are located one higher than the other, increasing sound reception. During flight, the left ear captures sounds below while the right ear focuses on sounds from above.
In addition, their face feathers create a disc, which works to trap and focus sound. Researchers found that in total blackness the barn owl is still able to find the smallest of prey because of their excellent hearing.
Owls’ eyes look forward in a fixed position and cannot move from side to side, as the human eye can. In order to see peripherally, the owl must turn its entire head.
It is a myth that owls can turn their head all the way around. Owls have 14 neck vertebrae, allowing them to move their head 270 degrees.
Barn owls have a serrated comb on the middle toes claw. So far, scientists believe this to be a grooming adaptation.
Most owls have unique, comb like feathers that allow for silent flight. The leading edge is "fringed" so that the feathers, when moving, do not make noise when rubbing together.
ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION
As predators, owls play an important role in the environment by controlling small animal populations. Because mammals are a primary prey item, this can be especially beneficial to humans, reducing the amount of food lost each year to rodents. Barn owls are also a food source for other animals.
In the Midwestern U.S., declining barn owl populations were cause for concern in the early 1980s. Six states declared the species endangered and nine others, "worthy of special concern". Chemical pesticide use has found its way into their eggs, causing a thinner eggshell and subsequent death. Removal of farm structures used for nesting and roosting sites and the loss of open fields for hunting territory have both contributed to barn owl destruction. Currently, North American populations of barn owls primarily live in southeastern states where rural areas provide enough old trees and buildings for nesting sites and farmlands and open fields for hunting.
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Birds - Their Latin Names Explained
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The Birds of North America
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National Geographic Society. 1983.
Field Guide to the Birds of North America. 2nd ed
. Washington, D.C.
Peterson Field Guide: Eastern Birds
. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.1980.