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Owls

© Philip Brown

Owls are elusive creatures of the night, when a lucky spectator may witness their large, shining eyes glaring down from the treetops, or hear a distinctive hoot in the distance. Throughout history, owls have been at the centre of myths and legends and even associated with witchcraft. The current reality is that they are tragically losing habitat, with many species at risk of extinction.

There are two families of owls – barn owls (Tytonidae) and typical owls (Strigidae) which can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Typical owls have large heads with round faces, whereas barn owls’ faces are heart shaped.

Of the 16 species of barn owl, four are considered Vulnerable, one Endangered, and one Data Deficient, meaning there isn’t enough information to determine its risk of extinction. There are 227 species of typical owls, 24 of which are Vulnerable, 13 Endangered, and three Critically Endangered.

Threats to their survival include the loss and fragmentation of their forest habitat, hunting, and climate change.

Family: Tytonidae and Strigidae
Diet: Carnivore
Life span: Up to 30 years
Wingspan: 13 – 52 inches
Weight: 1.4 ounces to 4 pounds
Group name: Parliament


Barn Owls

Read more in-depth information about each species of Barn Owl on our Datazone.

Typical Owls

Read more in-depth information about each species of Typical Owl on our Datazone.


Did you know?

Owls are impressive predators. They possess huge eyes, 2.2 times larger than other bird species of their size, improving their ability to see in the dark. Despite this, owls are farsighted, so have bristles around their beak to help detect close objects. Their ability to take off and flap their wings quietly enables them to sneak up on unsuspecting prey such as insects, small mammals, and reptiles, which they swallow whole. Parts of the animal that can’t be digested such as fur, feathers, and bones, are regurgitated as a ‘pellet’. These are useful for researchers to study their diet.

Though most owls are nocturnal, some opt to hunt at dawn and/or dusk instead. This depends on the availability of their preferred prey, for example the Northern Pygmy owl (a member of the Typical owl family) hunts in the day in order to feast on songbirds.

Courtship and pair-bonding behaviours can involve preening, cheek rubbing, or dual hooting. How long their bond lasts depend on the species. For some it will just be for the season or year, whereas others, such as Tawny and Screech owls (both Typical owls), will mate for life. Owls don’t tend to build their own nests, and may instead take over abandoned nests, or nest in tree holes, cliffs, or undisturbed buildings. Once the female has laid eggs, she will not leave the nest until they hatch, which can take up to 32 days, so relies on her mate to bring food. Once hatched, chicks will compete with one another for food and if food is scarce, younger, weaker chicks may be left to starve to death. Most young owls will fledge at around two months old, and once they are capable of flying solo, parental care will cease. It’s a tough world to navigate for young owls and around half don’t make it to their first birthday.

© Manidip Mandal

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