Common Barn Owl

by Carmel de Bertaut

The Common Barn Owl (Tyto alba), found on all continents, is the only owl in the genus Tyto. Like most owls, they are nocturnal and feed mostly on rodents. They nest in the hollow of trees and in barns and belfries, having one clutch of 5-7 eggs, which hatch after a 32-34 day incubation period. The young fledge after 52-56 days.

Barn owls, like all other owls, have modifications to their flight feathers that allow them to fly without being heard. This enables them to swoop down on prey undetected. They hunt mainly by sound, not sight, and they have asymmetrical ear openings, with the right one being higher than the left, ensuring their ability to orient towards a sound. The facial ruff of stiff dark-tipped feathers enhances their hearing by channeling sounds to the ear.

Owls swallow their prey whole and because they cannot digest bones or fur, they eject these in the form of a pellet or casting. Many other bird species, such as hawks, gulls and crows, will also do this. These pellets, when torn apart can tell us what a particular bird has been eating.

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