Minerva – Barn Owl
Hatched: Spring 2012
Minerva was hatched at the World Bird Sanctuary’s behind the scenes breeding facility. Her clutch was part of our Barn Owl reintroduction program. However, as in Minerva’s case, we will occasionally keep one of the owlets to be trained to become an ambassador for their species. The rest of her nest mates were released into the wild to help repopulate Missouri’s dwindling numbers of wild Barn Owls.
Minerva’s training began as soon as she was ready to leave the nest. She has been learning about all the different creatures and situations she will encounter during her career as an education bird. She has already been exposed to things that would be very scary for a wild owl–large groups of people, other animals such as large dogs, umbrellas, strollers, etc.–all things she might encounter at fairs, festivals and schools. To her credit, Minerva has taken it all in stride. When she is old enough she will begin the next phase of her training–learning to fly in education programs.
Species: Barn Owl
Latin Name: Tyto Alba
Description: medium sized owl; long, sparsely feathered legs; rounded head without ear tufts; heart shaped facial disk has white feathers surrounded with a brownish edge; beak off white, long, and compressed; rounded wings and a short tail; back tawny brown, marked with black and white spots; underside grayish white with brown spots; one of the few owls with completely dark eyes; feet yellowish-white to grayish-brown; downy feathers and fringed wing feathers give silent flight; asymmetrical ear location – one ear higher on one side of the head than the other
Sex: both sexes similar in size and color; females usually larger, heavier, darker in color than males; females and juveniles generally more densely spotted; sexually mature at 1 year; mate for life
Age: high mortality in the first year; average age in the wild is 2 years; few adults live beyond 3-4 years; oldest recorded wild barn owl in North America was 15 years, 5 months; captive birds have a much longer lifespan
Weight: 8-21 oz.
Habitat: Barn Owls are nearly cosmopolitan, living in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Their northern range is limited by the severity of winter weather and food availability. These owls prefer open lowlands with some trees, including farmlands, plantations, urban areas, various forest types, semiarid shrub lands, and marshes
Status: legal status across the entire US as a whole is “Not Endangered;” however, legal status in many states, including Missouri, is “Endangered,” causes of mortality are: loss of nesting sites, grasslands and pastures; great horned owl predation; vehicle collisions; shooting; poisons used to kill rodents which the owls eat; other factors which affect the rodent population
Range: every continent except Antarctica
Behavior: breeding season March through October; mating and courtship involve much chasing and screaming; nest is a scrape lined with pellets and debris; not extremely territorial; may nest within half mile of other pairs; usually 4-6 solid white eggs, sometimes more; one egg laid every 2-3 days, but incubating starts immediately hence there may be as much as two to three weeks difference in age of chicks in same brood; generally 3-4 young survive; incubation period 29-45 days; young fledge at 7-10 weeks, but do not leave the area until 3-5 months old; may lay a second clutch of eggs when young start to leave the area; usually hunt from a perch; also known to fly low over open fields in a quartering flight pattern to locate small rodents in their runs
Diet: majority of prey is small rodents , but will also hunt birds, fish, reptiles and insects
Vocalization: does not hoot; communicates with grunts, raspy hisses and drawn out hissing screams; male’s courtship call is a shrill repetitive twittering; adults returning to a nest give a low, frog-like croak; when disturbed at the roost or nest it makes hissing and rasping noises along with snapping sounds known as bill snapping
- 200 pellets from a pair of barn owls roosting above the Smithsonian Institute Building contained 444 skulls, including 225 meadow mice, 179 house mice, 20 rats, and 20 shrews – all caught in the city
- Can catch prey by hearing alone in total darkness due to asymmetrical location of the ears which allows them to triangulate sound
- Because barn owls tend to live in damp areas, a fungus grows on their feathers, giving them a phosphorescent glow at night – hence the often used name “ghost owl”
- Common nicknames: ghost owl, monkey faced owl, white owl, night owl, Sweetheart Owl, church owl
- Throughout history, barn owls have been associated with omens, witchcraft, and death; they were used as symbols, in myths and as part of superstitious potions