Category   Birds of BC: Barn Owl
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Barn Owl
Tyto alba

There are dozens of members of the barn owl family in the world, but only one in North America. In Canada it is restricted to extreme southern Ontario, and in British Columbia it is found on southern Vancouver Island and in the Fraser Valley on the BC mainland.

Barn Owls are fascinating predators. They are almost strictly nocturnal, and enjoy extremely good vision. More remarkable, though is their hearing.

With ears placed asymmetrically in their skulls, they are able to pinpoint the location of the faintest sounds. Tests have shown that Barn Owls are able to pounce on prey in absolute darkness.

In British Columbia, these efficient hunters eat primarily Townsend's Voles (Microtus townsendii), with a few other items for variety. Historically, they nested in broken treetops, and on ledges and cliffs. In Europe and North America, though, they now nest almost exclusively in human structures.

Normally six or seven white eggs are laid, at two-day intervals. Incubation of about 32 days begins as soon as the first is laid, so the first to hatch may be two weeks old when the last hatches. In a good year, all will survive, but if prey is scarce, only the biggest and strongest will get enough food. The young fledge in about 60 days, but are still dependent on the adults.

Barn Owls do not say "hoo-hoo". Their most memorable call is a blood-curdling scream. A loud hiss is given as a warning call, and a chattering like castanets seems to be a territorial call.

Barn Owls take readily to nest boxes and platforms. All they need is a safe place for their young, and suitable habitat for hunting. They tolerate human company well, and are fascinating to watch as they go about their lives.

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