A Night Fright from Barn Owls
A ghostly white form flies past your headlights and a drawn-out rasping screech echoes through the night.
Don’t shiver in your boots - it’s probably just the Australian Barn Owl calling out to say hello.
Their calls vary from a breathy hiss to an unearthly shriek, and they will snap and clack their beaks during mating and threat displays. They sleep in well camouflaged spots during the day, so the rare call of the owl may well be your only indication that one is living near you.
Owls like wooded areas and if you spot some pellets around that look a bit odd and cause a stink, they could be from an owl. Owls regurgitate pellets of the indigestible fur and bones of the creatures they eat. They’ll often do this near or inside their nest.
In southern Australia their chief prey is the house mouse. Owls will also eat other rodents, some marsupials if small enough, small birds, lizards, frogs, and night insects like beetles and moths.
Barn owls hunt by listening from a fence post or other low perch. They’ll also fly low to the ground to see what they can spot. When they hear or see dinner, they swoop onto the victim and swallow it whole.
Owls are amazing hunters and can even catch prey in complete darkness! Their flight is completely soundless, so their prey doesn’t have a chance of escape.
Barn owls live alone or in pairs. They’re most active during the night as they are nocturnal. They roost quietly by day in unseen places like tree hollows, thickly foliaged trees, caves and rock crevices, buildings and even wells. They will also roost in hollow logs - so don’t clear these away.
When nesting in tree hollows, the entrance to their home will usually be about 15 to 25 m above the ground, even though the actual nest may be down 10 m inside the tree! Owls move on to greener pastures if there aren’t enough rats or other sources of food around. They also don’t have a strict breeding season, but will mate and nest from autumn to spring whenever they have a good supply of food.
Don’t use rat poisons that cause secondary killings. Owls are natural predators of rodents but if an owl eats a rat that has ingested this poison, it can die too.
DID YOU KNOW?
Barn owls are the most widespread land bird on Earth as they live on every continent in the world except Antarctica.