Information on the Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

The BARN OWL is the white farmland owl that appears ghostly in flight as it hunts silently over areas of rough unmanaged grassland. It is a small mammal specialised that has evolved to hunt for its primary prey, field voles, using it’s hearing. This specialisation makes the barn owl vulnerable to changes to it’s environment and this is one of the main factors for its decline in the UK.

Over many centuries the Barn Owl has been the farmers friend and was the countryman's constant companion. It was also the guardian of virtually every village church, and no barn was complete without one.

Now, it is sad to say, that the British population has plummeted to such an extent due to the intensification of farmland that in many areas of the country present day children know the bird only from posters and greeting cards. The barn owl has been known by a variety of names over the centuries such as white owl, white hootlet, yellow owl, dylluan wen, screech owl, scritch owl, hissing owl, screaming owl, common owl, roarer, berthuan, Billy wise, Billy wix, Billy whit, cherubim, gill howter, gillihowlett, gil-hooter, gilly owlet, hoolet, hullart, hobby owl, Jenny howlet, Jenny owl, Madge howlett, Madge owl, moggy, padge, pudge, pudge owl, oolert, owlerd, ullet, ullat and woolert. Known as “cailleach oidhche gheal” in Gaelic.

The appeal of owls lies in their humanoid expressions, as they have large foreheads and their eyes are set at the front of their broad, flat faces. These type of features are in actuality adaptations for their hunting, which is mainly nocturnal. The position of their eyes confers a wide field of binocular vision, which is very important in their judgement of distance. Their size is a result of specialisation in the enhancement of their night vision. They have sensitive hearing, which is also important, and owls have relatively large ears. The openings for their ears are situated just behind the facial disc of feathers which surrounds the eyes

• Length: 33 - 35cm

• Weight: 240 - 350gms

• Wingspan: 85 - 93cm

• UK Breeding population: 4000prs

(* Approximate figures 2016)

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)



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Independent wildlife educator and owl specialist Ian McGuire