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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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 allaboutbirds.org profile here or your local wildlife rehab center.