Barn owls are classic, much loved birds of the countryside, recognisable by their heart-shaped faces, buff back and wings, and pure white underparts. Population estimates suggest we have up to 1000 breeding pairs nesting in Scotland and although they are nocturnal, you may be able to spot one hunting voles along field edges or roadside verges. The best time to keep an eye out is at dusk. Here are five facts we thought you’d enjoy about this species.
Barn owls are silent hunters
Under a cloak of silence, barn owls are able to sneak up on prey without being heard and this has the added bonus of allowing the owl to better hear any sounds made by its prey. The soft toothed feather edges of this bird help to reduce noise in flight.
They have supersonic hearing
This is perhaps a barn owl’s greatest asset. Incredibly sensitive hearing and a heart shaped face, which collects sound much like a human ear, mean this species can locate and catch prey that it can’t even see using sound alone. Barn owls also have lop-sided ears, with one being higher up than the other, which helps them to pinpoint where sounds are coming from.
They don’t hoot
That’s tawny owls! Barn owls have a distinctive shrieking call. You might also hear ‘snores’ and ‘hisses’ coming from the nest site of a barn owl.
Barn owls have powerful toes
And they’re equipped with long, very sharp talons. The outer toe is reversible which gives the owl a better grip on its prey. They will often carry prey back to the nest using their feet, but transfer the meal back to their bill when they arrive.
They don’t like to waste energy
Barn owls will often use perches to hunt from in cold weather as this reduces heat loss and saves energy which would otherwise be used in flight.
Could you give a barn owl a home? Check out our guide to barn owl boxes here.