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. 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 female of the species is more attractive than the male, which is the reverse of the situation for most species. The female barn owl is more reddish than the male and generally has a more heavily spotted chest. Females with more spots have been shown to have fewer parasites, and the quality of the female’s chest spots is thought by scientists to also affect how much the male will help out at the nest.
Barn owls require large areas for hunting. Their food consists of small mammals, which are hunted for when flying over fields, meadows, marshes, brushy areas and agricultural land during the night. Thus, the prey it seeks includes those small mammals that are also active at night, including rats, mice, voles, rabbits and shrews. It will also eat birds, such as starlings. The barn owl has excellent vision for hunting, but according to Cornell University, its ability to locate its prey by sound alone is the best of any animal that has ever been tested.
The barn owl swallows its prey whole, and regurgitates pellets about twice a day. This gives scientists a wealth of information about the Barn owl’s diet as well as the ecosystem in which it lives. Furthermore, the Barn owl lines its nest with some of the pellets it coughs up by pulling them apart to make a comfy nest.
Barn owls are uncommon, but widely distributed throughout the world. There are 46 different species worldwide from the smallest of the species living in the Galapagos to the North American species, which weighs twice as much as its Galapagos Islands counterpart. The barn owl is uncommon in the Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuge as well as in the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian white-tailed deer.
The barn owl was brought to our attention in the April 20, 2016 edition of the Observer. The barn owl typically nest in old barns or abandoned buildings. It also nests in cavities and takes to nesting boxes. There is a nesting pair in such a box in Grays River. You can watch these nesting birds live by going to: tinyurl.com/Guinevere-Owl or you can go out for a night drive in the open country of the refuge or the Peninsula, all the while listening for the raspy, harsh, screeches of the barn owl. The call is unlike that of any other owl you will ever hear!!! You may just see one in flight hunting for dinner!