By Steven Ward [ CC BY 2.0 ], via  Wikimedia Commons

By Steven Ward [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

A resident species in Virginia. Found from Central New England south throughout the United States, Central and South America.

Length          12–16 inches
Wingspan     39–49 inches
Weight          14–25 ounces

Open country such as farms, savannas, and grassland.

Mainly rats and mice, but they are opportunists.

A slender, long-legged, medium sized owl with a distinctive white, heart-shaped face. Non-tufted; generally tan in color. Nests in barns, silos, church steeples, and unused buildings. Will accept nest boxes of a specific type. Calls are quite varied, and include shrill hisses, abrasive shrieks and rattles. When hunting will occasionally let out a drawn-out scream to startle prey. In trouble in Virginia because of loss of habitat, nesting sites, and monoculture agriculture.

Barn Owls are in the family Tytonidea, while all other owls are in the Strigidae family. It is thought that Barn Owls split from the "true owls" a long time ago, and then independently co-evolved to have many of the same traits as the true owls. However, several key differences can be noted, the most important being their very short life span (3-4 years in the wild vs. 7-9 for a similar sized true owl) and the great number of eggs they lay each year (6-30 eggs vs. 2-3 for similar sized true owls). 

Meet RCV's resident education Barn Owl - Ghost!