Strix alba Scopoli, 1769, Italy. Twenty-seven to 30 subspecies recognized. Species complex includes ashy-faced owl (T. glaucops) of Caribbean islands, and Sulawesi barn owl (T. rosenbergii). In 1999, form on Andaman Islands elevated to full species rank as Andaman barn owl T. deroepstorffi. Some other dark, well-marked subspecies on tropical islands may also be full species.
OTHER COMMON NAMES
English: Barn/cave/screech/white/ghost owl; French: Effraie des clochers; German: Schleiereule; Spanish: Lechuza Comъn.
11–17 in (29–44 cm), 0.4–1.5 lb (187–700 g). Small, usually pale owl with small eyes set in heart-shaped facial disc, small feet. North American subspecies larger. Mottled gray and buff dorsally, with white to buff underside finely spotted. Some island forms darker, browner dorsally and rufous ventrally. Female similar. Juvenile has downy head and thighs when first fledged.
Five subspecies from Europe and Mediterranean to Middle East; one subspecies in sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar; four subspecies on islands around Africa; one subspecies in India and Sri Lanka to Indochina and southern China; two subspecies from Malay Peninsula to eastern Indonesia; three subspecies in Melanesia; one subspecies in Australia; one subspecies from North America to Caribbean; four subspecies on Caribbean islands; one subspecies on Galбpagos; and four subspecies in Central and South America. Some disagreement on the number of subspecies, particularly in the Caribbean and South America, with some authorities also recognizing subspecies in Madagascar and Polynesia. Some disagreement over whether Caribbean forms insularis and nigrescens belong with T. alba or T. glaucops. Introduced to Seychelles and Hawaii.
Wide variety of open wooded or treeless, grassy or brushy habitats, extending to rocky areas, caves, wetland verges, and urban areas.
Nocturnal, crepuscular, and sometimes diurnal. Solitary, or in loose aggregations where prey is abundant. Roosts solitarily or communally in natural or artificial cavities or other shelter, from tree hollows, caves and dense foliage to buildings. Often resident, but also dispersive and irruptive. Breeding pairs are sedentary, occupying home ranges of 1.1–3.7 mi2 (2.9–9.5 km2), but defend an area of only a few yards around the nest. Call is a falsetto screech, sometimes likened to a woman screaming.
FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET
Preys on a wide variety of invertebrates and small vertebrates, but mostly on rodents, detected by watching and listening from perches or low quartering flight.
Monogamous. Can lay in all months, and may have two or three broods in a year when prey is abundant, but at high latitudes lays in spring. Nests in a variety of natural and artificial cavities. Clutch usually 4–7 eggs; exceptionally up to 16 may involve two females laying in one nest. Incubation 29–34 days, fledging 7–10 weeks.
Not globally threatened. Very widespread, and uncommon to locally common or even abundant during plagues of prey species. Some local declines in intensively farmed Western countries, and the status of some subspecies restricted to small islands is uncertain. Listed on Appendix II of CITES.
SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS
Has a long history of folklore in Europe, the Mediterranean, and among tribal peoples. Luminescing barn owls may have contributed to the origin of mythology concerning the Will o’the wisp, Jack o’lantern and similar phenomena. Has achieved popularity as a destroyer of rodents.
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