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Barn Owl

Bird of the month is the Barn Owl (Tyto alba). 

Barn Owl

(Photographed by Eris Stockenstroom, Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy)

Colouring: Iris dark brown; bill white to pale pink; toes pinkish. Very pale, generally; above tawny and grey, with small white spots; face and underparts white, with fine brown spots from breast to belly and wash of tawny buff across breast; pale heart-shaped face; longish legs closely feathered white.

Voice: Prolonged thin screeching schreeee, sometimes with tremolo quality; hissing defence call; also snoring and wheezing notes, answered by staccato squeaks; chirruping contact call.

Distribution: Wide-spread in southern Africa.

Habitat: Varied, but always near suitable roosting cavities in cliffs, buildings, deep wells, mineshafts. Nests in holes in tree trunks, bases of palm fronds; from woodland to desert, but not forest.

Habits: Usually in pairs. Roosts by day in suitable cavities; when disturbed, elongates body and almost completely closes eyes. Emerges at dusk to hunt by quartering around in alternate flap-and-glide flight; may hover to scan ground, or beat bushes to disturb roosting birds; also hunts from perch. Weaves lower head from side to side in threat display.

Food: Mainly rodents; in urban areas, small birds; also shrews, elephant shrews, lizzards, frogs and insects.

Breeding season: August to December in Western Cape; February to March elsewhere in southern Africa.

Incubation and fledging: Usually five eggs. Incubation 30-32 days; chicks hatch over several days. Nestling: 50-55 days; as little as 45 days if food abundant. In years of rodent plagues, first egg of next clutch may be laid before young or current brood have left nest.

References: Gordon Lindsay Maclean: Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa, Sixth Edition. 1993.

Kenneth Newman: Newman’s Birds by Colour. 2000.

Photographs are courtesy of Gavin Orbel, Eric Stockenstroom and Mercia Komen of the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy/Oori; this series is a joint venture with Hartebeestfontein Conservancy (text)