I finally have a great reason to write about owls!
Yesterday, two barn owls were released into the wild after being raised in captivity for nine months. The owls were orphaned when they were three months old and rescued by South Bay Wildlife Rehab.
Barn owls are also referred to as common barn owls or their scientific name: Tyto alba. I don’t usually think of Southern California as owl country, but the barn owl is the most widely-distributed owl in the world and Southern California is no exception. In fact, zoologist Pete Bloom is sited in an article on The Owl Pages website for helping tag 10,000 barn owls throughout Southern California in the last 40 years! (This article is also an excellent resource on the benefits of having barn owls around for pest control and how to entice them into your yard with a nest box.)
According to the Birds of North America database, there are 28 subspecies of barn owl and the subspecies found in North America happens to be the largest at around 14 inches long and is officially called Tyto alba pratincola. Barn owls don’t bother building their own nests, which is how they got their common name after frequently taking up residence in barn lofts. But they also feel comfortable moving into trees, cliffs, caves, riverbanks, church steeples, and haystacks.
Despite being so common, barn owls keep a low profile through their nocturnal habits. At night they leave their nests and use their excellent night vision and hearing to hunt for rodents of all types. If you happen to be out at night and hear a creepy raspy screech, it’s probably a barn owl. They don’t use the nice little “hoot, hoots” owls are famous for. To get a better idea of what a barn owl sounds like, the All About Birds website has a great recording of a barn owl call, which is referred to as a “hissing scream.”
To tie in the ocean angle, the barn owls released yesterday took flight in White Point Nature Preserve in San Pedro,CA, a beautiful setting with ocean views where it’s easy to spot Catalina Island. (Barn owls are also found on the Channel Islands.) According to my friend Henry Jurgens, both owls landed on parts of the Preserve, an excellent habitat choice.
Barn owls have received extra attention recently from the Guardians of Ga’Hoole book series by Kathryn Lasky, followed by the movie, which came out last year. The books feature a fantasy world of owls and open with Soren the barn owl and his family. Really fun reading for owl fans of all ages!
I would love to have the chance to see a barn owl, but hear one…not so much. (A big thanks to Henry Jurgens for sharing such awesome photos!)