For the Birds: Valentine’s Day Bird –The bird with the heart face

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Female Barn Owl
Photo by Max Warner

By Christine Southwick

The Barn Owl has a distinctive heart-shaped face, unlike any other owl, which makes it perfect for representing Valentine’s Day. Matter of fact, Barn Owls are so different from other owls that they belong to a separate family from all other owls, and are found in temperate zones on all continents.

Did you know that Barn Owls don’t hoot, or that they have such definitive hearing that they can hunt in total darkness? Scientists believe that their large heart-shaped faces condense sound and, added to their asymmetric ears, these owls can triangulate the source of scurrying little feet, and this allows Barn Owls to hunt in a deep darkness other owls cannot.

Barn owl flying
Stock photo

Barn Owls are medium owls with long legs and toes, and are the only owl that tolerates humans. Barn Owls have found that where there are open fields for farming there are many of their night-moving favorite vermin, rats, mice, voles, and other rodents, including rabbits.

According to research, a family of Barn Owls can kill about 1,300 rats a year — truly a farmer/rancher’s best friend.

Barn Owls fly low over large open areas of marsh, grass, or farm land with slow, buoyant wing beats, making their flight distinctive, although not usually seen since these are strictly nocturnal hunters.

Northwest barn with resident owl
Photo by Samantha Robinson

During the day they sleep (and nest) in cavities — holes in large trees, barns, church steeples, silos, hay piles, basalt cliffs, even nest boxes. Their eerie, raspy calls at night, or when startled by an unsuspecting human, has led to many a fright, and stories of haunted abandoned buildings.

Barn Owls mate for life, but will replace a deceased partner. Barn Owls will defend the area around their nests, but are willing to share their hunting territories, which is one reason there are not many confrontations between Barn Owls and humans.

Male barn owl
Stock photo

The females are slightly larger than the males, are usually redder, and have more spots on their chests than the males.

The greatest danger for these owls is habitat loss, especially since open flat areas are great for parking lots and other development. And as habitat dwindles and car traffic increases, many Barn Owls are hit by cars, since they fly low over fields (hedgerows next to roads help elevate their flight).

Old open buildings and large trees with openings near open areas would welcome these vermin-controlling owls. Nest boxes help too.


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