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The Barn Owl in Ontario

Scientific Name: Tyto alba

The earliest record of a Barn Owl in Ontario dates back to 1882. Now considered "endangered" in Ontario.

Physical Characteristics
  • a white heart-shaped facial disc, no ear tuffs, a long curved bill, small dark eyes
  • long legs sparsely feathered down to its grey toes
  • underside is white, back is a golden buff colour
  • about the size of a crow, about 40 cm high (16")
Food
  • known as great "mousers" and agriculturally valuable predators
  • preferred prey are meadow voles, field mice and shrews
  • hunts at dusk and at night
  • excellent hearing, can hunt in almost total darkness
Range and Habitat
  • widely distributed throughout much of the world ? prefer warm climates with mild winters
  • found commonly in the southern US and California, lower populations in midwest US and rare in the eastern US. In Canada only found in southern coastal valleys in BC and along north shore of Lake Erie
  • nocturnal predators, Barn Owls forage over grasslands, old abandoned farm fields, pastures and hayfields, wet meadows, and wetland edges
  • generally hunts within a 1 km. Radius of nest but if food is scarce will forage up to 4 kilometers from the nest
  • cavity nesters, Barn Owls will use both natural and man-made sites for nesting. Nest sites include tree cavities, barns, silos, and abandoned buildings
  • do not build a formal nest, however pellets (regurgitated balls of fur and bones from prey they have eaten) litter the base of the nest cavity and are used to create a depression for egg laying
Behaviour
  • northern population may be partially migratory, returning to nest sites in early Spring
  • Barn Owls show strong nest site fidelity, using the same nest box year after year
  • very nocturnal, usually begin hunting one hour after sunset
  • can locate prey by sound in almost complete darkness
  • fly silently due to the physical characteristics of their wing feathers
Benefits of Barn Owls
  • restoring Barn Owl habitat will benefit numerous other grassland dependent wildlife species
  • improve the natural control of rats and mice in farmyards, fields and marshes
  • the excitement and experience of seeing this beautiful bird in its natural habitat
Life History Notes
  • monogamous, peak mating in the spring (April)
  • egg laying in late April - mid July, peak of hatch in late May, two broods a year
  • clutch size of 3-8 eggs, average 5, eggs are incubated for 30-34 days
  • eggs are white in colour and oval in shape (43 x 33 millimeters - 1.7 x 1.3 inches)
  • young altricial (hatch in an immature, helpless condition) so they require care for some time
  • young fledge at 8-10 weeks, resemble adults at time of fledging
  • owlets are able to hunt for themselves after 60 days
  • males weigh 420-450 grams (14-19 ounces), average 485 grams (17 ounces)
  • females weigh 490-700 grams (17-25 ounces), average 570 grams (20 ounces)
  • adult body length, including tail 33-40 centimeters (13-16 ")
  • adult wingspan 107-114 centimeters (42-45 ")
  • life expectancy about 2-4 years in wild, high mortality the first year
Limiting Factors
  • loss or lack of suitable foraging habitat and nest sites
  • severe winter cold and extended periods of deep snow which affect prey availability
  • nest predation by raccoons, opossums, cats and snakes and adult predation by Great Horned Owls
  • vehicle collisions, electrocution from power lines
  • secondary exposure to agricultural pesticides
What Can We Do to Help?
  • prevent habitat loss, protect and restore grasslands and marsh areas
  • provide safe nesting sites by installing nest boxes near good rodent-hunting habitat
  • participate in conservation efforts
  • report any Barn Owl sightings
  • volunteer to install and/or monitor nest boxes
  • donate money for Barn Owl research and grassland restoration
Sightings
  • they are quiet flyers and are rarely seen in the daytime
  • their colouration and secretive habits allow them to blend in well with their landscape
  • they can flush and get out of sight quite quickly
  • hearing them is possible since the rasping, food-begging call of the young can be heard as far as half a kilometer away during fledging
  • Barn Owls don?t "hoot", but make a loud "blood-curdling" scream
  • another clue to their presence is pellets (regurgitated bones and fur) in barns, silos, other buildings or at the base of trees

 

The Ontario Barn Owl Recovery Project Committee is very
interested in any information regarding sightings of Barn Owls.

Please send sighting reports to:

Debbie Badzinski
Bird Studies Canada
Box 160, Port Rowan, ON N0E 1M0 
1 888-448-BIRD (2473)
barnowl@bsc-eoc.org

or

Bernie Solymar
RR#3, Simcoe, ON N3Y 4K2
(519) 426 -7124
solymar@nornet.on.ca

 

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