Molly the barn owl has been with us since she was just 4 weeks old and having recently celebrated her 7th birthday in June this year, we thought it might be nice to write a post about barn owls to give you a little insight into her heritage.
Barn owls are the world’s most widely distributed species of all birds. They are found on every continent except Antarctica. A barn owl can be easily identified by its appearance.
- White heart-shaped face
- White chest with small brown spots
- Tawny back, marked with black and white spots
- Long legs with strong grasping talons
- Hooked upper beak
It is difficult to tell the males from the females by appearance alone, although the females can be a little larger, darker and more spotted. Their feathers are incredibly soft and this is conducive to the barn owls silent flight. However, they are pretty poor at repelling water so get soaked through if out in the rain!
Another defining characteristic is their call, although these creatures are not heard as often as they are seen. They don’t hoot like you might expect, it’s more of a rasping screech!
We are lucky that we are able to see these fabulous birds in the wild in many places across the UK, hunting at dawn and dusk for small mammals such as field voles, shrews and mice. They have incredibly sensitive hearing as well as exceptional vision allowing them to see their prey moving in very little light. These finely tuned senses combined with their silent flight, means their prey stands very little chance!
Once captured, their food is swallowed whole. Then all the indigestible product such as the fur and bones, are regurgitated as a pellet. Barn owl pellets are sausage shaped, very solid, smooth and black in appearance and can be quite large – upto 70mm long.
Barn owls are commonly monogamous in nature and form a life long pairing. Although it has been known on occasion, to find a male paired with two females. Breeding season is usually early-mid spring, but if we have a particularly harsh or long winter, the breeding season is sometimes delayed.
Barn owls most commonly nest in barns, holes in trees or in nest boxes. And although they don’t ‘build’ a nest, they lay their eggs onto the debris from the previous brood, which is usually made up of compacted pellets. If no debris is available, then directly onto the surface on which they’re roosting, i.e. wood, with more recently produced pellets is the ideal place to lay their eggs.
Barn owl eggs are white and oval in shape. Each clutch (the number of eggs laid in one brood by a pair of nesting birds) is usually between 4 and 7 but can be more depending on the habitat. Eggs hatch around 30 days after being laid and the chicks will remain in the nest for around 50 days before venturing out for their first flight.
How we can help the species
As well as more naturally occurring reasons for the decline in population, such as starvation, we find a lot of fatalities are due to man made issues – birds flying into power cables, being hit by lorries or from eating poisoned prey. There are a few things that we could all do to encourage barn owls and help decrease some of the risks to their numbers.
- Erect a safe, deep nest box
- Use only non-toxic rodent control
- Leave a patch of rough grassland to grow wild to encourage voles
- Volunteer for your local barn owl group
- Support charities working to conserve the barn owl
We may well be biased(!) but we are astounded every day by our incredible Molly. She is such a beautiful, graceful bird and in the wild barn owls truly come into their own with their fantastic hunting abilities. We thoroughly enjoy any opportunity we have to talk about these wonderful birds of prey and we hope we have shared some of our passion with you through this post. We would love to read any experiences you may have had with barn owls, either in the wild or up close and personal such as at a wedding we may have attended with Molly, so please do comment below!
Love Debbie, Steve & Molly