Crawlies with Cri: American barn owl

American barn owl (Tyto alba pratincole)

With Halloween right around the corner, this week’s crawly is a creature of the night. Meet the American barn owl (Tyto alba pratincole).
If you’re lucky, you’ve seen a barn owl up close and personal. Heck, maybe you even have one living in your barn. They come by their common name honestly.
But did you know barn owl subspecies can be found throughout the world? Subspecies live in Europe, Africa, Arabia, India and Asia southeast to Java.
The American subspecies lives throughout most of the contingent states and all the way south to the tip of South America.
The biggest difference between the American subspecies and those found in Europe and Asia is literally a “big difference.” The American barn owl is 50% larger than those found in other places.
In our area, barn owls can be found in spots with lots of open fields, marshes and pasture for hunting and large hollow trees or numerous old buildings for breeding sites. Their nests can also be seen in the cliffside at Petroglyph Point in Lava Beds National Park.
Barn owls are handy to have around as they dine on rodents such as voles, rats, ground squirrels and pocket gophers. They eat whatever type of rodent is most readily available.
They’re so good at what they do that they are used in integrated pest management programs in vineyards.
If you don’t have a barn, you can build a barn owl nest box and maybe attract one or a pair to your yard. You can search for barn owl nest box plans and instructions on best places to install them on the internet.
Good nesting spots are important to barn owls because they will have between one and three broods per year, the female laying between one and 18 eggs.
Nesting sights will be reused year after year and sometimes will be taken over by a new pair of barn owls. The oldest known barn owl was just over 15 years old when they died, so good nests can be used for many years.
Like other owls, barn owls swallow their prey whole, then once or twice a day they will eject a pellet comprised of the non-digestible bits (bones, fur, etc.) – gross and amazing at the same time.
Fun fact: While barn owls do have excellent night vision and can see prey in near total darkness, their true hunting superpower is their ability to hunt by sound. They are better at it than any other animal that has ever been tested.
How? Barn owls are known for their “heart-shaped” faces; the disc shapes that form the top of that heart act like parabolic microphones, directing the slight sound of a vole chewing on plants in the dark straight to the barn owl at increased volume.
Scary fact (it is Halloween, after all): Speaking of sound, barn owls don’t hoot like great horned owls do. Nope. They make a long eerie screeching sound that – and I say this in the most loving possible way – is utterly terrifying to hear in the dark.
Happy Halloween and give their call a listen at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barn_Owl/sounds.