Barn Owls

This gallery contains 5 photos. For nature lovers, the sight of a Barn Owl evokes adjectives of cute, gentle, and serene. When you have big black orbs of eyes in a heart-shaped facial disc, you may even be called loving or affectionate. Yet this aerial predator is more than just a pretty face; it is an important natural rodent control specialist, with a state-of-the-art sound system; each ear hole is located and angled differently from the other and can detect prey with pinpoint accuracy–even under pitch black conditions–an astonishing and unequaled feat in the human (or animal) kingdom.

© WHSIM Alba the Barn Owl 1.jpg
Now six, a fall out of the nest broke Alba’s wing, which failed to fully heal (Apr 26, 2015)
f/6.3, 1/500, 500mm, ISO 500

But for all their aural gifts, Barn Owls have their Achilles’ heel(s). Unlike other owls, they are very poorly insulated to tolerate harsh winters and prolonged cold spells. This is why they need barns (or some sort of semi-enclosed structures), and unfortunately old barns as well as trees are constantly getting knocked down for residential or commercial development. If you see mini barns in wildlife refuges or parks, they’re meant for these nocturnal hunters to spend their days in; the entrance/exit hole will be just big enough to accommodate Barn Owls (and not Great Horned Owls, which may predate them).

© WHSIM Mini Barn for Barn Owl.jpg
One of several mini barns found throughout Metro Vancouver (May 17, 2015)
f/11, 1/250, 213mm, ISO 160

Barn Owls are unable to store fat like other owls can, and so they do not hibernate, either. They also can’t afford to have wet feathers, because this impairs their ability to fly and hunt. Living in Metro Vancouver is therefore extremely challenging, even during the best of times.

© WHSIM Sarah the Barn Owl.jpg
Imprinted on humans, gentle Sarah is another permanent O.W.L. spokesbird (July 27, 2014)
f/3.2, 1/80, 100mm, ISO 800

In 2015, a very mild winter produced a bumper crop of Barn Owls in the area (read the full article here). By contrast, the Polar Vortex that began in the middle of December 2016, and continued on and off into the first two months of this year, saw local populations crash. I have only ever seen a Barn Owl in the wild once, late last year (and it was fast asleep in a cedar tree), but the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (O.W.L.) in Ladner reported admissions of a staggering 43 Barn Owls in January 2017 alone, with many dying (read the full story here).

© WHSIM Barn Owl Owlet.jpg
Likeness of a Barn Owlet. Fledgling survival after year 1 is between 30-50% (July 27, 2014)
f/2.8, 1/80, 100mm, ISO 1600

The harsh temperatures made their prey scarce, and what compounded the issue was that the rodents (which are the staples of their diet) these Barn Owls were able to catch contained rat or mouse poison–a large contributing factor to their deaths. Why anyone uses rat poisons boggles my mind. It’s harmful to dogs and cats, and can even cause abortions and internal bleeding in humans if ingested in large enough quantities.

© WHSIM Napping Wild Barn Owl.jpg
A dozing wild Barn Owl in a cedar tree at an undisclosed area (December 30, 2016)
f/20, f/7.1, 500mm, ISO 1250

Some practical suggestions were offered in the local birding forum (see the post here). To learn more about Barn Owls, and what you can do to help them, visit their Cornell Lab of Ornithology profile here or your local wildlife rehab center.


24 thoughts on “Barn Owls

    • thank you, Gigi! I am glad that we have resources here to help them. I hope we don’t have another spell of winter like we had here, at least, for a long, long time!


    • thank you, Eliza! my one and only sighting of a Barn Owl in the wild was the sleeping one in the tree, although late last year, I did have an owl suddenly and almost contact my car’s windshield as I was turning left onto a suburban road. what odd timing on both our parts! all I saw was a flash of white as it quickly flew off, so it could have been a Barn Owl (but it could also have been a Great Horned Owl or a Snowy Owl, too!)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Teresa

      They’re almost as cute as Saw Whet Owls! 😀 😀 😀
      Not to worry, there’s no expiry date on my posts!

      PS. I am glad that BBC Earth is in free preview now so I can enjoy Blue Planet II!


      Liked by 1 person

      • Planet Earth II has been amazing so far! But then I love everything Attenborough does. 🙂 And all your photos are awesome, even when the birds may be less than cute (I don’t know when that would be…maybe when you photograph a vulture or condor…hah!). 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • me, too … lifelong Attenborough fan. 🙂 but! I think the King Vulture is the beauty of vultures! and although we may not think crows are all that pretty, they are related to Birds of Paradise, some of the most beautiful birds in the world (who’d have guessed that there was a family connection??) 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Barn Owls – General Store/Two Old Guys

Your comments are like chocolate for my soul ... I can never get enough of them! Bonus brownie points for witty comments! I love a good turn of phrase. :)

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.