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Barn owl

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Barn owl
Tyto Alba 1.jpg
Scientific Classification
Tyto Alba flying.jpg
A tyto alba gliding through the air

Barn owls are any of the species of owls belonging to the taxonomic family Tytonidae. The family consists of eighteen separate species including the best known common barn owl. All have relatively similar physical appearances and feeding habits and can easily distinguished from other owls by their heart-shaped facial disc. All tytonids have similar dietary needs and often feed on small mammals, such as mice.

Body Design

A skeleton of a typical tytonid, (tyto alba)

Members of family tytonidae are moderately large birds with the Tyto alba having a wingspan ranging between forty-three and forty-seven inches long.[2] The legs of these birds are comparatively longer than those of other owls. Owls of family Tytonidae are easily recognized by their heart-shaped facial disks and their "compressed" beaks.[3] The facial disk is a collection of feathers on the owl's face that assists the owl in hearing and vision.[4] Similar to many other birds of prey, the members of family tytonidae possess large talons.[2]

The members of this family possess thick and soft feathers covering their body. The feathers on the back of the tyto alba are generally colored brown and gray with a white or light brown frontal side.[4] The members of genus phodilus closely resemble those in tyto, with several exceptions. Oriental bay owls (p. badius) generally have more brown external feathers and have darker markings stretching vertically along their face. They also tend to be smaller than owls of tyto with smaller, and more rounded wings.[5] Females of both genera are frequently a darker color than the males. Unlike many other owls, the owls of tytonidae have solid black eyes. Because of their large wings, members of tytonidae can fly and glide smoothly and silently. This capability greatly assists these birds in hunting.[3]

Life Cycle

A tyto alba chick within its first month of life.

The tytonid life cycle, like all birds, begins as an egg. A typical clutch (the number of eggs laid) for the tyto alba may contain between one and seven eggs, but the phodilus badius usually lays between three and five eggs.[3][5] Thirty-two to thirty-four days after being laid, the new barn owl hatches from its egg.[6] Once hatched, a tytonid chick will weigh approximately 20 grams.[4] Usually, both parents assist in caring for the young. The female's main task is to incubate and warm the chicks, while the male primarily hunts and provides food for the young.[3] By the time the chicks reach about five weeks old, they will typically weigh as much as an adult. In order to provide enough food for the young, the parents must capture as many as seventy-four mice or other small animals per night.[4] When it reaches the age of two months old, the owl is old enough to hunt for itself.[6]

The members of tytonidae can reproduce within their first year of life. When the breeding cycle begins, the male begins searching for a mate. When he finds a mate, the male will provide the female with extra food. The two mates often engage in courtship behaviors such as preening each other. [7]


This map shows the vast range of the species tyto alba throughout the world.

The members of family tytonidae can be located in any continent except for Antarctica. This vast range of habitation makes barn owls the most widespread family of owls. These birds are capable of living in many different environments, from rural areas to cities. The tytonids are frequently located in the terrestrial biomes of savannah, grassland, forest, and scrub forest. The oriental bay owl (p. badius) often lives in the woodlands and swamps of Southern Asia.[5] Commonly, barn owls will nest in elevated areas such as trees, posts, barns, etc.[8] Some species can live in the high elevations of mountains such as the Andes Mountains.[9]

Like all other birds of prey, the members of family tytonidae are carnivorous. They often prey upon small rodents, such as mice, as their primary source of food. In certain situations, the members of family tytonidae will resort to feeding on other birds, reptiles, frogs, and even insects. Typically, the equivalent of a fairly large rat is consumed daily by an average tyto alba.[4] As a large bird of prey, the barn owls are hunted by very few other animals. Occasionally, the chicks may be taken by a predator such as a raccoon.[4] On rare occasions, an adult tyto alba may be killed by a great-horned owl.[8]


A tyto alba with a mouse that it recently caught

Tytonids possess many physical characteristics that make them excellent hunters. With their adept vision in the dark, they can easily find and track their prey. Even better than their sense of sight is a barn owl’s sense of hearing. Through a series of tests, scientists have concluded that the owls of tytonidae possess the greatest ability of any animal previously assessed to hunt by using only their ears.[10] As well as senses, the tytonids possess uniquely designed feathers to dampen the sounds of flight.[4]

Members of family tytonidae have fascinating hunting methods. In a typical hunt, the owl either begins at the top of an elevated platform such as a tree branch, post, or stump or begins in the air. Next, the bird uses its keen senses of sight and hearing to accurately locate its prey. Once it finds its target, the tytonid will begin its descent by opening its wings and silently gliding through the air with its uniquely quiet wings and feathers. When it draws near enough to the prey, the owl will dive down head first until it reaches the point where it spreads its wings, brings its head back, opens its talons and hits the unprepared prey. The owl will then usually eat the prey whole or hold it for a later time.[4][11]


This video shows several barn owls (Tyto alba) and plays the noise of their screeches and interactions with each other.



  1. 1.0 1.1 [1] Web. Last updated 8 December 2013. Author Unknown.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Barn Owl Biology Web. Accessed March 23, 2014. Author Unknown.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Cholewiak, Daniell Tytonidae barn owls, masked owls, and bay owls Animal Diversity Web. Web. Accessed March 21, 2014.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Common Barn Owl – tyto alba Web. Accessed March 21, 2014. Author Unknown.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Oriental Bay Owl Phodilus badius '’ Web. Updated February 2005. Author Unknown.
  6. 6.0 6.1 . Barn Owl - Tyto alba New Hampshire Public Broadcasting. Web. Accessed march 23, 2014. Author Unknown.
  7. . Spring - nesting barnowltrust.orgb. Web. Accessed March 23, 2014. Author Unknown
  8. 8.0 8.1 Bachynski, Kathleen and Harris, Marie S. Tyto alba barn owl Animal Diversity Web. Web. Accessed April 5, 2014.
  9. Barn Owl Web. Accessed April 5, 2014. Author Unknown.
  10. Couzens, Dominic. Barn owl: A deadly hunter Web. Updated on March 12, 2013 (specify which).
  11. Feeding & Hunting '’ . Web. Accessed April 6, 2014. Author Unknown.