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Owl Facts

Summary: When studying owl facts you will find that barn owls are often regarded as beneficial to human populations, feeding on rodents and other small animals that can damage crops. Although listed as an endangered species only in the state of Michigan, barn owls are federally protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Barn owls are a medium-sized owl species with a distinctively heart-shaped face, large head and long legs. Barn owls are found on every continent other than Antarctica, making them one of the most widely distributed bird species in the world. These dark-eyed nocturnal owls have white underbellies and tawny backs freckled with black and white spots. Barn owls may also have spots on their undersides, although this is observed more frequently in females of the species. The female barn owl also has a reddish tint to her breast, making her one of the few bird species that outshines her male counterpart in the looks department.

Up to 46 different species of barn owls have been documented across the globe, which differ in size and coloration. Those found in North America are thought to be the largest and can weigh up to twice as much as other barn owl species.

Like most nocturnal bird species, the barn owl has excellent night vision that helps it to easily find prey in the dark. However, barn owls also have an exceptional and unique ability to locate their prey using sound alone, making them a highly deadly nocturnal predator. Barn owls prey mostly on small mammals, such as mice, shrews and rabbits, and can be seen flying low over the ground at night searching for their prey.

Although they sometimes nest in hollow trees, barn owls are more commonly found in open areas, such as deserts, fields and grasslands. They also nest in rock ledges, caves and man-made structures, including barn lofts and church steeples. During the day, they can also be found roosting in barns, tree cavities and rock crevices.

In most cases, barn owls are a monogamous species that generally mates for life. Courtship includes mating calls and display flights, with the male pursuing the female. Barn owls can mate nearly any time of year, depending on food supply. Once a pair has courted, they mate as often as every few minutes while they search for a suitable nesting site. Barn owls produce anywhere from two to 18 eggs in one brood or clutch and may produce up to three clutches per year. Because most barn owls don't live to two years of age, they often only mate once during their lifetime.

Unlike species that build their own nests, barn owls tend to prefer old abandoned nests, which may have been vacant for decades. The female barn owl lays one egg every two or three days, with an average clutch size of five eggs. The female of the species is solely responsible for incubating and feeding the young hatchlings, which are vulnerable and covered in white fluff. While the female is incubating, the male barn owl provides her with food. In a rather repulsive practice, the female may also feed on the feces of her newborn hatchlings for the first several weeks in an effort to sanitize the nest.

Other than humans, who destroy potential habitat and spur climate changes, barn owls have very few natural predators. In North America, some species of snakes may prey on hatchlings and larger owl species may occasionally prey on adults. In other areas of the world, where barn owl species tend to be smaller in size, eagles, falcons and other owl species are common predators.

Although the barn owl population has decreased significantly over the past 40 years, they are not considered as a federally threatened or endangered species, but are listed under the United States Migratory Bird Treaty Act and protected by some individual state governments. Currently, barn owls are listed as an endangered species only in the state of Michigan. In some areas, conservation efforts and nesting boxes have helped to grow populations. Barn owls are not generally thought to be pests and play an important role in the ecosystem by preying on small rodents, making them especially beneficial to farmers.

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