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Be a Better Birder Tutorial 1

Barn Owls

Location: Texas

Camera Host: Anonymous

Find more about Weather in Italy, TX

October 22, 2014

Silently Sleeping

Watch our Barn Owl parents as they nap quietly together in the nest box. As they relax the center parting of their facial disk, above the beak, opens. 

October 21, 2014

Dad Picks Up a Large Primary Feather

Check out how big this the primary feather is when the male parent picks it up. The adult Barn Owls are continuing to molt. 

October 21, 2014

Dad's Song and Dance (uncut)

Check out this clip of Dad chirping and dancing for almost 7 minutes! Mom finally returns and they both nap. 

October 22, 2014

Silently Sleeping

Watch our Barn Owl parents as they nap quietly together in the nest box. As they relax the center parting of their facial disk, above the beak, opens. 

October 21, 2014

Dad's Song and Dance (uncut)

Check out this clip of Dad chirping and dancing for almost 7 minutes! Mom finally returns and they both nap. 

October 21, 2014

Dad Picks Up a Large Primary Feather

Check out how big this the primary feather is when the male parent picks it up. The adult Barn Owls are continuing to molt. 

August 14

An Empty Nest

Since the departure of the female parent in the morning the nest box has remained empty for the day. The young are now almost 100 days old (oldest is 96 days old) as of August 14. In a study a first successful prey capture was observed in England at 72 days of age. In this same study the young were last fed by parents in the 12th–13th week. Our Barn Owls are in their 13th week of age. All 3 could have started hunting and may now be hunting without the additional help from their parents. 

August 12

Youngest First to Depart Nest Box

The youngest Barn Owl, some viewers call Screech or Bonnie, has left the nest box during daylight hours. The two oldest owls remain in the box during the day. We were expecting the departure from the nest to be extended; with the fledglings returning to the nest box to roost for several weeks. It has now been a month since the young owls first left the box. Leaving the nest box in the daylight hours means the young may now start to roost elsewhere but still close to the nest box. This may happen for a few more weeks. Fledglings are normally dependent upon the adults for 3--5 weeks after flying. The youngest owl may have started its first real flights now. 

May 29

Prey Deliveries Increase

In comparison to previous nights we note an increase in prey deliveries in the early hours of the morning. The male parent delivers 6 small rodents and 1 sparrow to the female parent to feed the young and also feeds the owlets himself with a further 3 small rodents (00:00, 00:33, 00:43, 01:09, 01:34, 02:37, 03:01, 03:20, 03:44 and 4:57AM). The sparrow is consumed whole by one of the owlets. The female parent delivers 2 prey items; a small rodent at 00:40AM and a rat at 01:39AM. The rat is gradually fed to the owlets throughout the morning, however the second oldest owlet attempts to swallow it whole twice. Around 9AM the female parent begins to feed the deceased fourth owlet to the surviving young. 

Barn Owl

Building

Nest Placement

Barn Owls put their nests in holes in trees, cliff ledges and crevices, caves, burrows in river banks, and in many kinds of human structures, including barn lofts, church steeples, houses, nest boxes, haystacks, and even drive-in movie screens.

Nest Description

The female makes a simple nest of her own regurgitated pellets, shredded with her feet and arranged into a cup. Unlike most birds, owls may use their nest sites for roosting throughout the year. Nest sites are often reused from year to year, often by different owls.

Clutch Size

2-18 eggs

Incubation Period

29-34 days

Nestling Period

50-55 days

Egg Description

Dull white, often dirtied by the nest.

Condition at Hatching

Helpless, covered in white down.

Mammals

Food

Barn Owls eat mostly small mammals, particularly rats, mice, voles, lemmings, and other rodents; also shrews, bats, and rabbits. Most of the prey they eat are active at night, so squirrels and chipmunks are relatively safe from Barn Owls. They occasionally eat birds such as starlings, blackbirds, and meadowlarks. Nesting Barn Owls sometimes store dozens of prey items at the nest site while they are incubating to feed the young once they hatch.

Typical Voice

Barn Owls don’t hoot the way most owls do; instead, they make a long, harsh scream that lasts about 2 seconds. It’s made mostly by the male, who often calls repeatedly from the air. Females give the call infrequently. A softer, more wavering version of this is termed a purring call. Males use it to invite a female to inspect a nest site, and females use it to beg for food from the male. Barn Owls also make a loud, 3-4 second hiss at intruders or predators that disturb the nest.more sounds

See full Species Info at All About Birds

About the Nest

TexasBarnOwl BoxThis Barn Owl box is nestled in the rafters of a large open-air pavilion on a ranch in Texas. Surrounded by grasslands and scrubby forest, the box has been occupied off-and-on by Barn Owls for as long as the landowner can recall. The Cornell Lab previously featured this nest site online from 2005-11, during which time resident owls had 11 nesting attempts, 7 of which successfully fledged at least one nestling. The camera system was updated in 2013, and a pair of owls arrived at the box during the last week of February 2014.

In addition to the Barn Owls, other birds of the open grasslands can be heard vocalizing in the background, including Eastern Phoebes, Tufted Titmice, Eastern Bluebirds, and Western Meadowlarks.

About the Barn Owls

Little is known about the two Barn Owls who have taken up residence in this owl box. In 2013 a pair successfully fledged four young owls from this site and those same adults may have returned again in 2014. During the day the owls rest and preen, leaving to forage as night approaches. Listen for their eerie, raspy vocalizations throughout the day and keep track of their comings and goings throughout the night thanks to the infrared illuminator in the box (don’t worry—the light is invisible to the owls.)

Barn Owls are more sexually dimorphic than other owl species. The female is larger than the male, with a heavily spotted chest and more color on her head and body; in contrast, the male appears very white and pale. She creates the simple nest cup of shredded regurgitated pellets in which she’ll lay an average of 2-18 eggs and the male brings meals of small mammals for her and the nestlings. The female incubates the eggs as soon as they are laid, leading to “hatching asynchrony,” a situation where there are big differences in size between the nestlings based upon the hatch date of each. In years of scarcity, the smallest perish and are sometimes even consumed by their nest mates. Though nest failures such as this are difficult to watch, this strategy enables the parents to produce as many young as conditions allow.

Learn more about Barn Owls in our AllAboutBirds Species Guide.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to the landowners, who wish to remain anonymous, for allowing us access to this nest and to the property manager for helping to maintain the camera during the season.

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