These owls are hauntingly beautiful; it is too bad they are nocturnal, active at night, so we rarely see them. These slender owls have a whitish face, chest and undersides making them appear all white in flight. The upper side is buff and gray with long, rounded wings, short tails and long legs. The spots on the head and breast serve a purpose; the more spots on the female, the more resistant she may be to parasites and the more attractive to males.
Their soundless flight coupled with an ability to pinpoint noises allows them to find prey in low light or even in near darkness. Studies in Germany have discovered that the shape of their wings and the ability to fly so slowly with very few wing beats gives them silent flight. These owls have more feathers than other similarly sized birds and this dense coverage absorbs the sounds of their flight.
The heart shape of their head funnels sounds towards their inner ears. Their two ears are slightly different in shape and location with one higher on the head than the other. The differences in sound received by the ears allow them to calculate the exact position of the sound. The larger than average brain in a barn owl may help to process sound information needed for nocturnal flight.
Barn owls have binocular vision but they cannot rotate their eyes in their sockets. But they can turn their head 270 degrees to get a good bird’s eye view. They have double the number of vertebrae in their necks and specially adapted blood vessels that allow them this amazing rotation.
They roost in cavities, old barns, abandoned buildings, and nest boxes. The female builds the nest using her own regurgitated pellets which she shreds with her feet and builds a cup nest. The nest may be used for roosting all year long. They will lay between 2 and 18 eggs and will have 1 to 3 broods per year. Incubation takes 29-34 days and nesting is another 50-55 days.
What would you call a group of barn owls? Answer: a parliament or a wisdom or a study.
Scientists are working to understand the basic structure of barn owl wings and use this information to design new, quieter airfoils for aviation. Barn owls silent flight could help reduce the noise from aircraft.
Farmers appreciate barn owls for their healthy appetite for rodents and other small animals that eat their crops. More and more wineries are installing nest boxes to encourage barn owls to take up residence. Their appetite eliminates the need for toxic pesticides. And barn owls do not chew their food, they swallow those rodents whole! Later they will cough up pellets of all the indigestible parts.
The Port of Stockton has installed multiple owl nest boxes to help protect the integrity of the levies in a green way. Without the barn owls, rodents in the area would make swiss cheese out of the levies. Two of the boxes have web cams (http://www.portofstockton.com/owl-cams) so you can watch the owlets hatch and grow before fledging each spring.
If you would like to meet a barn owl up close and personal, schedule a Saving Wildlife Saves Us presentation with Tri County Wildlife Care and Stella, our barn owl education ambassador. Stella’s wing was badly damaged as a juvenile and cannot be released. Call 283-3245 to schedule a free wildlife class.
Saving Wildlife, Saves Us.