BOM: Barn Owl
Scientific name: Tyto alba
How to identify: These medium-sized owls have long, rounded wings and short tails, which combine with a buoyant, loping flight to give them a distinctive flight style. The legs are long and the head is smoothly rounded, without ear tufts. Barn Owls are pale overall with dark eyes. They have a mix of buff and gray on the head, back, and upperwings, and are white on the face, body, and underwings. When seen at night they can appear all white.
Habitat: Barn Owls require large areas of open land over which to hunt. This can either be marsh, grasslands, or mixed agricultural fields. For nesting and roosting, they prefer quiet cavities, either in trees or man-made structures such as barns or silos.
Where to find one: Barn Owls nest and roost in cavities, abandoned barns and other buildings, and dense trees. At night, Barn Owls hunt by flying low, back and forth over open habitats, searching for small rodents primarily by sound.
How to attract one to your yard: Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young.
Interesting fact: Barn Owls swallow their prey whole-skin, bones, and all. About twice a day, they cough up pellets instead of passing all that material through their digestive tracts. The pellets make a great record of what the owls have eaten, and scientists study them to learn more about the owls and the ecosystems they live in.
For more information on Barn Owls, visit one of the three Moana Nursery store locations: 1100 W. Moana Ln. & 11301 S. Virginia St., Reno and 7644 Pyramid Hwy., Sparks.
Carmel Ruiz-Hilton is Manager of Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shops at Moana Nursery in Reno/Sparks
Barn Owl Myths and Folklore
Some call it "ghost bird." Others have named it "demon bird." In fact, colloquial names abound for the widespread Barn Owl. Found on every continent except Antarctica, and with about 30 subspecies filling its range, the majestic Barn Owl has not always been looked upon favorably.
Despite their bad reputation in folklore, Barn Owls do a lot of good. Many farmers forge beneficial relationships with Barn Owls, as a single owl family can consume approximately 3,000 rodents a year. The majority of their diet is gophers, and they also eat mice, voles, moles, and rats. In exchange for a nest box, they will keep fields clear of rodents, reduce crop damage and loss, and eliminate the need to put out rodenticide. Seeing a Barn Owl is simply a good sign that the ecosystem is healthy and resilient. So remember, Barn Owls are only a scary bird if you're a mouse!