A few years ago I wrote about the barn owl. It was important because there was one nesting in Grays River at the time. Now, I think, is good time to revisit the barn owl because my friends Judy and Al Franklin just recently received a visit from one. In Judy’s own words, it “stopped by for a visit.” It had silently swooped into the yard looking for a vantage point from which to scout out its lunch or maybe it just wanted to rest for a bit. It found a perch on the head of a great blue heron sculpture that not only decorates the yard, but also appears to be standing watch for any snack that might appear.
Nocturnal, moth like in flight, and “ghostly pale” when seen in flight under the cover of darkness are words used to describe the barn owl. If seen during the day, it could also be described as moth like in flight and “ghostly pale.” It is a medium sized owl just shy of a foot and a half in length. It has a very short tail, long rounded wings, large dark eyes and long legs. It is a slim looking bird that is a pale tawny in color overall with a heart shaped facial disc.
The question that came to mind was, “Why in Judy and Al’s yard?” When I posed the question to Judy, she came back with a photo entitled, “Bunnies Galore.” She guessed that the barn owl was looking for lunch given the fact there were “many bunnies” in the area. Her answer definitely rings true since we know that the prey the barn owl seeks includes small mammals such as rabbits. It has superb vision for hunting, but according to the Cornell Ornithological Lab, it has an ability to locate its prey by sound and is one of the most adept animals at doing so.
Recent literature suggests that barn owls are “strictly nocturnal” (Shewey and Blount, 2018), but it seems that they can also be seen on the hunt during the day. I have only ever sighted one barn owl in my life and that was on the Long Beach Peninsula many years ago, and I saw it during the daytime in the shore pines at the edge of the dunes. I assume it might have been on the hunt because a huge expanse of open land was before its very eyes!
I wonder whether Judy and Al’s visitor is nesting in their area? Barn owls adapt well to human habitation, and often nest in crevices or cavity-type locations on buildings. As their name suggests, they also nest in barns and nesting boxes. As mentioned in a recent article on owls, the barn owl, like other owls, regurgitates pellets containing the indigestible parts of its prey. This it does about twice a day. The barn owl is a good recycler — because it lines its nest with some of the pellets it coughs up by pulling them apart to make a comfy nest for their young owlets.
The barn owl is uncommon on the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge as well as on the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge which means it is present, but not always seen. Moreover, it has been recorded as a nesting species in our area.
The barn owl’s call is “an eerie scratchy hissing screech, chuuuureeech” (Shewey and Blount, 2018). If you don’t catch it during the daytime as Judy and Al did, look for it at night. It is most likely to be seen perched on the side of a road near open fields, wetlands or farmlands. So grab your binoculars and go for a night drive. Listen for the harsh screech of the barn owl and watch for a large moth like creature, ghostly pale in color, silently traversing the open areas of the Peninsula on the hunt for dinner or breakfast!
”Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula,” by Kalbach and Stauffer, is available from the Chinook Observer, Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Center.