Barn Owl Tyto alba
With a heart shaped face, buff back and wings and pure white under parts the barn owl is a distinctive and much loved countryside bird. Widely distributed across the UK, and indeed the world, the bird has suffered declines over the past fifty years as a result of the degradation of once prey-rich habitats in the face of intensive agricultural practices.
Conservation status in Norfolk
Threatened, Barn owls have declined both nationally and in Norfolk. Barn owl numbers have fallen by more than half since 1932. Reasons for this decline include a fall in the number of nest sites with barns and derelict farm buildings being converted into homes, road deaths and the decline in area of rough grassland hunting grounds.
How to help
If barn owls nest on your property limit disturbance between March and July as this is usually the period when the eggs are being incubated and young are hatching. Being aware of areas used by barn owls for hunting and ensuring these are managed as rough grassland will help the owls find food. Nest boxes are often used by barn owls. Boxes can be placed high up on a beam or near a roof apex of a building as long as there is easy access to the building for the owls and it is relatively undisturbed. Equally nest boxes placed on poles in area of rough grassland or on trees are often successful.
Julian Thomas Swafield Sep 2009
Information on the Barn Owl
How to recognise
Barn owls are unmistakable birds. They can appear totally white. In fact Barn Owls are beautifully marked on the back and wings with shades of grey, buff and brown. The barn owl has the characteristic owl-shape with a heart-shaped facial mask, rounded wings and pale colouration. Barn owls do not hoot, but they do however hiss, click and scream.
Where to see
Look for barn owls on farmland, grassland, marshy areas, fens and cattle grazed coastal fields. Barn owls often hunt along roadsides and may even be seen along busy main roads. NWT Hickling Broad NNR and NWT Holme Dunes are two excellent nature reserves to look for barn owls. The Norfolk Fens, Broadland and the North Norfolk Coast hold good barn owl populations and deer parks and estates with veteran trees such as the National Trust Blickling and Felbrigg estates and the Mannington and Wolterton Estates are also good areas to see barn owls in Norfolk.
When to see
Throughout the year, especially at dawn and dusk. Courtship begins between January and March. Eggs are usually laid in late April or May with the male bringing food to the female while she incubates. Young owls take around 60 days from hatching before they are ready to leave the nest. Most young owls leave between July and August, around the time the numbers of mice and voles peak. Barn owls may sometimes be seen hunting even in the middle of the day, especially when they have young to feed or on the first fine day after a period of wet and windy weather.
Did you know?
Other Norfolk names for the barn owl include hushwing, due to their silent flight, Billy Wix and White Owl.
Barn owls hunt as much by sound as by sight and the stiff feathers of the barn owl’s face mask reflect sound to the owl’s ears.
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