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Barn Owl

blackbird, William Lewin

Barn owl from John Gould's Birds of Australia, Part III, 1836.

Barn Owl

The eastern barn owl is native to southeastern Asia and Australasia. From the 1940s it was a regular vagrant to New Zealand from Australia but was not recorded breeding in New Zealand until 2008 when pair was located breeding in a large pūriri tree on a farm near Kaitaia in Northland. They are now very widely distributed from Northland to South Auckland.

The barn owl is one of the most widely distributed land birds in the world. Owing to their habit of feeding on small mammals they are a favourite of farmers and are often encouraged by erecting nest boxes to support their breeding. By day the Barn Owl roosts in hollow logs, caves or dense trees, and is usually seen alone or in pairs. The preferred habitat is open, often arid country, such as farms, heath and lightly wooded forest.

Barn Owls have no definite breeding season. Breeding takes place mostly in response to food availability and often twice per year. They are normally cavity nesters, but birds sometimes nest in caves or abandoned buildings. The entrance hole is usually 15 to 25 m above the ground, though the nest chamber may be up to 10 m down inside the tree. No nest material is used, except a few old pellets, which are the regurgitated indigestible leftovers of small mammals and other prey.

The pale white eggs are laid at two-day intervals. The female alone incubates the eggs, but both parents care for the young. The young will perch in the vicinity of the nest site and be fed by the adults for a further month or so after leaving the nest.

Like in Australia, barn owls appear to breed year round in New Zealand – possibly every four to five months. They can lay up to seven eggs, but to date no more than three chicks have been seen fledging the nest at any one time in New Zealand.

Barn Owls feed mostly on small mammals, mainly rodents, and birds, but some insects, frogs and lizards are also eaten. One of the more favoured foods is the introduced House Mouse, Mus musculus. Barn Owls hunt in flight, searching for prey on the ground using their exceptional hearing. The heart-shaped structure of the facial disc is unique to these types of owls. The slightest sound waves are channelled toward the ears, allowing the owl to pinpoint prey even in complete darkness.

Barn owls have been recorded feeding mostly on mice and rats in New Zealand, but they have also been found to feed on small farmland birds such as Greenfinch. They probably also take large insects when available.

Like morepork, barn owls are able to fly silently and hunt in complete darkness. They hunt either by sitting on a perch and waiting, or by quietly quartering the ground with wings held in a shallow ‘v’ much like a harrier. Amazingly they are able to turn their heads almost all the way around! This removes the need to turn their body on their perch and risk disturbing the prey that they are keenly listening for.

When threatened, the Barn Owl crouches down and spreads its wings.

Barn Owls are generally quiet, the common call being a 12 second rough, hissing screech. Less frequently, birds give whistling and wheezing notes and some snapping and bill clacking during mating and threat displays.

Taxonomy  
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Tytonidae
Genera: Tyto alba
Species: Tyto alba delicatula
Sub Species:  
Other common names:  —

The ghost owl, church owl, death owl, hissing owl, hobgoblin or hobby owl, golden owl, silver owl, white owl, night owl, rat owl, scritch owl, screech owl, straw owl, barnyard owl and delicate owl.

Description:  —  Native bird

Barn Owls are medium sized birds (females slightly larger than males), with a 'heart-shaped' facial disc, black eyes and bill. They have sandy orange and light grey upperparts and white to cream underparts. Both the back and breast are evenly spotted with black. Birds often appear whiter than normal when illuminated in car headlights or torches. Young birds are similar to adults in plumage.

Where to find:  — 

Northland

Youtube video  — 

Barn Owl

Poetry:  — 

Barn Owl

Daybreak: the household slept. I rose, blessed by the sun. A horny fiend, I crept out with my father's gun. Let him dream of a child obedient, angel-mind-

old no-sayer, robbed of power by sleep. I knew my prize who swooped home at this hour with day-light riddled eyes to his place on a high beam in our old stables, to dream

light's useless time away. I stood, holding my breath, in urine-scented hay, master of life and death, a wisp-haired judge whose law would punish beak and claw.

My first shot struck. He swayed, ruined, beating his only wing, as I watched, afraid by the fallen gun, a lonely child who believed death clean and final, not this obscene

bundle of stuff that dropped, and dribbled through the loose straw tangling in bowels, and hopped blindly closer. I saw those eyes that did not see mirror my cruelty

while the wrecked thing that could not bear the light nor hide hobbled in its own blood. My father reached my side, gave me the fallen gun. 'End what you have begun.'

I fired. The blank eyes shone once into mine, and slept. I leaned my head upon my father's arm, and wept, owl blind in early sun for what I had begun

— Gwen Harwood

Illustration description: — 

Gould, John, Birds of Australia, Part III, 1836.

Reference(s): — 

Australian Museum
Wikipedia

Page date & version: —  Monday, 7 March, 2022; ver2022v1