Soldiers Delight - Creature Feature

Barn Own ​​​It's Spooky Season! For October, we're taking a look at one of our more mysterious of the owl species that live in Maryland, the barn owl. Barn owls are the most widely found owls in the world, and occupy habitats almost everywhere except desert and polar regions. In almost their entire range, barn owls strongly prefer rodents as a food source, making them a noted and welcome feature around farms. Their metabolism is high compared to other owls of the same size, meaning they can eat several rodents a night.

One of the most silent of owls, their heart-shaped white faces are distinctive to the species, and in fact improve the barn owls' hearing- without the ruff along the edge of their faces, barn owls can determine the direction, but not the height of sources of sound. In North America, barn owls commonly have reddish brown and grey feathers along their backs and wings, but appear pale or white from below. They may also have black spots or "freckles" across their chest. Highly freckled females are considered more attractive to males, and this may have roots in their health! In Europe, females with more and larger freckles are healthier than others, and there is some indication that females with more freckled feathers have greater resistance to external parasites. Like many owls, the structure of their flight feathers enable barn owls to fly silently, although barn owls do make noise on occasion. Barn Owls do not hoot, but rather screech! This has led to their common name in India being 'screech owl.' Barn owls' wide distribution has led to many common names around the world however, including 'hobgoblin owl,' 'delicate owl,' and 'ghost owl.'

While barn owls are common in Maryland, they are now endangered in Canada owing to a combination of factors. Starvation due to harsh winters, predation by larger animals like raccoons and Great Horned Owls, road mortality, and use of rodenticides are noted as the primary causes for their decline. But while they are common in Maryland, it is no less wonderful an experience to see them in the wild, and no less important for us to protect our unique feathered friends!