The Barn OwlTyto alba is a beautiful bird, it has buff coloured wings and upper parts, with pure white underside. When viewed in flight the impression is of a large white bird. Males and females look almost the same with females often having darker colours and small dark spots on the underside.
Barn owls like to roost in old farm buildings or hollows in trees. Being quite shy birds they prefer roosts and nesting sites that give them a place to hide. The ideal habitat for them is rough grassland that has a deep litter layer for their prey to live in. They prefer to stay in the same area their whole life and cover a home range of approximately 3km in which they will probably have one nesting site, a couple of regular roosts and a few that they will visit occasionally.
Barn owls breed in late spring. Females lay a clutch of 5-6 eggs over a couple of weeks. The female will stay with the hatched owlets until the youngest reaches three weeks, at which point they have all developed a layer of downy feathers and can regulate their own temperatures. Owlets will eat the same amount as their parents so feeding a large clutch is hard work for both the male and female. By ten weeks old the owlets are fully developed and begin to venture out the nestbox. They then have just a few weeks to learn hunting skills before becoming independent at around fourteen weeks old.
The majority of a barn owls diet is made up of small mammals such as the field vole, common shrew and wood mouse. They hunt by flying quite low to the ground and listening for their prey moving amongst the grass. Prey is swallowed whole. However, barn owls cannot digest the bones and fur and they regurgitate these parts as a tightly packed pellet.
Barn Owls are protected under Schedule 1 on the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 when on eggs or have dependent young. Changes in farming practises over the last century have caused a large decline in the numbers of barn owls as suitable nesting sites and prey habitat is destroyed.