Wednesday, 1 November 2023
They’re usually seen as ghostly figures drifting across the road, illuminated by the car’s headlights, or glimpsed as they perch on a roadside post, statue-like, as you speed past. The Barn Owl is surely one of the most charismatic birds of the night.
When you get a good look at a Barn Owl, one of its most distinctive features is its heart-shaped facial disc. An adaption to hunting at night, it focuses even the faintest squeak or rustle from a mouse into the bird’s ears. Unlike human ears, the owl’s are set at different levels so that it can readily locate the source of the noise. The owl’s feathers have soft fringes to make them virtually silent in flight, and this allows the bird to hear potential prey as it flies across the landscape. Barn Owls also have large eyes, essential for good vision on even the darkest nights. With this combination of features, it’s no surprise that the Barn Owl is a master hunter of the night.
During periods of good rains, the grass grows and sets seed. This abundance of food allows the populations of mice to increase, and then, in turn, so does the population of Barn Owls, breeding up their numbers in response to the availability of their prey.
Under natural circumstances, Barn Owls nest and roost in old tree hollows, but they will also use old, disused buildings such as barns (hence their name). They also use other artificial sites which mimic hollows — once, one was even found roosting in a rubbish bin!
Barns Owls are one of the few birds to occur on all the world’s temperate continents (in other words, everywhere except Antarctica). It’s the most widespread terrestrial bird. They’re seen right across Australia, especially wherever there’s grasslands or farmland, though they’re irregular visitors to Tasmania. Some have even turned up in New Zealand, where they now breed.
Some Barn Owls have an unusual feature — sometimes their feathers may emit a luminous light at night, which adds to their mystique. This luminosity is thought to have given rise to the legend of the Min Min Lights, Jack o’ Lanterns and suchlike mysteries of the night.
Have you seen a Barn Owl lately? See where they’ve been seen, on BirdLife Australia’s Birdata website.
Unfortunately, these days, Barn Owls are increasingly being seen during the daylight hours, and it may because many have eaten a mouse that has been poisoned. Second generation rodenticides — which are readily available to the general public — not only kill mice and other rodents, they also kill the owls and other birds of prey that eat the mice. Now is the time for these deadly poisons to be regulated. Add your voice to our open letter to Minister Murray Watt: help get dangerous Second-generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides regulated properly in Australia, asap!
Subscribe for the latest conservation news, upcoming events, opportunities, and special offers.