Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Common barn-owl
Tyto alba

 

Taxonomy
Occurence in Illinois
Status
Habitat associations
Guilds
Food-habits
Environmental associations
Life history
Management practices
References


TAXONOMY

 

  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Strigiformes
  • Family: Tytonidae
  • Genus: Tyto
  • Species: Tyto alba
  • Authority: Scopoli

Comments on taxonomy:
No comments.

 


OCCURENCE IN ILLINOIS

Occasional permanent resident in south. Rare permanent resident in north and central *01*. In 1983, 1 nest reported in Pulaski Co. (cypress tree- 2 young). Also sighted during breeding season in Joliet and Will Co. *24*.

 


STATUS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories
Forest Service Categories: S = recommended for regional sensitive status, F = forest listed species, M = management indicator species

Federal Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed for listing
Candidate for proposal Recovery plan approved Recovery plan received (USFWS)
Recovery plan in preparation Under notice of review Delisted
Migratory EPA indicator Forest Serv.- Shawnee species (F)

State Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed

Other:

Game Furbearer Nongame protected
Sportfish Commercial Pest None of the above

Comments on status:
Protected under the Illinois Endangered Species Act, 1972 *02*, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 1918 *22*, and the Ill. Wildlife Code *23*.

 


HABITAT ASSOCIATIONS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories

General habitat:

Unknown Terrestrial Aquatic Riparian

USFS timber inventory forest size class:

Unknown Unstocked Seedling Sapling
Seedling/sapling Pole Mature Over mature

Land use and land cover:

Unknown   Urban Residential
Commercial
Industrial
Transportation, communication
Complex industrial/commercial
Mixed
Other
Agricultural Crop, pasture
Orchards, groves, nurseries

Feedlot
Other
Rangeland Herbaceous
Shrub and brush
Mixed
Forestland Deciduous
Evergreen
Mixed
Water Stream
Lake
Reservoir
Bay
Wetland Forest
Non-forest
Barren Salt flat
Beach
Sand
Rock
Mine
Transit
Mix

 


Forest cover types: No records.

Associated tree species: No records.

Comments on species-habitat associations:
Barn owl is primarily a bird of open country - residential and agricultural areas, old fields and woodland edges *04,05,07,10*; as such, tree species or forest types are not discussed in literature. details of structural stages used for cavity nests are available: mature and overmature trees (50+ cm d.b.h.) *08*.

Important plant and animal association: In one east central IL study, 42% of prey items were house mice *17*.

High value habitats

HabitatStructural stageSeason
Deciduous forest land Mature
(9" dia. & 100 yrs. old)
All
Evergreen forest land Mature
(9" dia. & 100 yrs. old)
All
Mixed forest land Mature
(9" dia. & 100 yrs. old)
All
Forest Mature
(9" dia. & 100 yrs. old)
All
Prairie All All
Agricultural field All All
Successional field All All
Cropland and pasture Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All

Species-habitat interrelations: Forest class size (mature), secondary cavity use (nesting), high value; fields, farmlands, forest edges are primary foraging habitats, high value. The barn owl is a cavity nester, but has adapted manmade structures for nesting- e.g. barns, church steeples, abandoned buildings- and may be found in close association with human activities *04,10*.

 


GUILDS

Feed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonFeed-guilds
Cropland and pasture Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- birds
Terrestrial surface- small mammals (<1 kg)
Other agricultural land Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- birds
Terrestrial surface- small mammals (<1 kg)
Forest Mature
(9" dia. & 100 yrs. old)
All Terrestrial surface- birds
Terrestrial surface- small mammals (<1 kg)
Prairie Special habitat All Terrestrial surface- birds
Terrestrial surface- small mammals (<1 kg)
Agricultural field Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- birds
Terrestrial surface- small mammals (<1 kg)
Successional field Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- birds
Terrestrial surface- small mammals (<1 kg)

Comments on feed-guilding:
No comments.

Breed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonBreed-Guilds
Other urban or built-up land Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface, artificial structures (e.g. ground debris, bridges, trestles, rooftops)
Artificial structure (e.g. telephone and power poles, chimney, antenna)
Other agricultural land Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface, artificial structures (e.g. ground debris, bridges, trestles, rooftops)
Terrestrial subsurface, artificial structures (e.g. mine shafts, outbuildings)
Artificial structure (e.g. telephone and power poles, chimney, antenna)
Deciduous forest land Mature
(9" dia. & 100 yrs. old)
All Tree bole, broad-leaved deciduous cavity user
Tree bole, needle-leaved evergreen cavity user
Evergreen forest land Mature
(9" dia. & 100 yrs. old)
All Tree bole, broad-leaved deciduous cavity user
Tree bole, needle-leaved evergreen cavity user
Mixed forest land Mature
(9" dia. & 100 yrs. old)
All Tree bole, broad-leaved deciduous cavity user
Tree bole, needle-leaved evergreen cavity user
Forest Mature
(9" dia. & 100 yrs. old)
All Tree bole, broad-leaved deciduous cavity user
Tree bole, needle-leaved evergreen cavity user
Floodplain forest Mature
(9" dia. & 100 yrs. old)
All Terrestrial subsurface, ground burrow maker
Terrestrial subsurface, bank burrow maker
Terrestrial subsurface, artificial structures (e.g. mine shafts, outbuildings)

Comments on breed-guilding:
Barn owls may breed in all seasons (most records in march to may *13, 14,15*) *15*. Cavity nesters that have adapted to man-made structures such as towers, barns and other buildings. Also uses tree cavities, rock crevices and holes in river banks *09*.

 


FOOD-HABITS

Trophic level is CARNIVORE

Food itemLife stage/plant part
Insecta Adult
Soricidae (shrews) Adult
Chiroptera (bats) Adult
Leporidae (rabbits, hares) Adult
Sciuridae (squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs) Adult
Geomyidae (pocket gophers) Adult
Heteromyidae (pocket mice, kangaroo rats) Adult
Cricetidae (woodrats, mice, voles, lemmings, muskrats) Adult
Muridae (Norway rat, house mouse) Adult
Birds Adult
Birds Unknown
Phasianidae (pheasants, quail) Adult
Icterinae (blackbirds, orioles, meadowlarks) Unknown
Important:
Sciuridae (squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs) Adult
Geomyidae (pocket gophers) Adult
Heteromyidae (pocket mice, kangaroo rats) Adult
Cricetidae (woodrats, mice, voles, lemmings, muskrats) Adult
Muridae (Norway rat, house mouse) Adult
Juvenile:
Sciuridae (squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs) Adult
Geomyidae (pocket gophers) Adult
Heteromyidae (pocket mice, kangaroo rats) Adult
Cricetidae (woodrats, mice, voles, lemmings, muskrats) Adult
Muridae (Norway rat, house mouse) Adult
Birds Unknown
Icterinae (blackbirds, orioles, meadowlarks) Unknown
Adult:
Insecta Adult
Soricidae (shrews) Adult
Chiroptera (bats) Adult
Leporidae (rabbits, hares) Adult
Sciuridae (squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs) Adult
Geomyidae (pocket gophers) Adult
Heteromyidae (pocket mice, kangaroo rats) Adult
Cricetidae (woodrats, mice, voles, lemmings, muskrats) Adult
Muridae (Norway rat, house mouse) Adult
Birds Adult
Phasianidae (pheasants, quail) Adult
Icterinae (blackbirds, orioles, meadowlarks) Unknown

Comments on food habits: 
General: See comments on adult food habits.
Juvenile: Nestlings and young fledglings depend on rodent populations for a majority of their prey which is provided by both parents *09*.
Adult: Birds and insects form a small part of prey taken. Barn owls appear to prey on small mammal species most abundant in their hunting range *09,21*.


ENVIRONMENTAL ASSOCIATIONS

General:

  • Cliffs/ledges: see comments
  • Tree cavities: unknown
  • Ecotones: woodland/crop fields
  • Ecotones: woodland/old fields
  • Ecotones: woodland/grassland
  • Ecotones: see comments
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Coniferous forest: see comments
  • Hardwood forest: see comments
  • Overstem trees- ave. dbh: see comments
  • Human associations: houses/chimneys/attics
  • Human associations: barns, sheds
  • Human associations: see comments

Limiting:

  • Cliffs/ledges: see comments
  • Tree cavities: unknown
  • Coniferous forest: see comments
  • Hardwood forest: see comments
  • Overstem trees- ave. dbh: see comments
  • Human associations: houses/chimneys/attics
  • Human associations: barns, sheds
  • Human associations: see comments

Egg:

  • Cliffs/ledges: see comments
  • Tree cavities: unknown
  • Coniferous forest: see comments
  • Hardwood forest: see comments
  • Overstem trees- ave. dbh: see comments
  • Human associations: houses/chimneys/attics
  • Human associations: barns, sheds
  • Human associations: see comments

Feeding juvenile:

  • Cliffs/ledges: see comments
  • Tree cavities: unknown
  • Ecotones: woodland/crop fields
  • Ecotones: woodland/old fields
  • Ecotones: woodland/grassland
  • Ecotones: see comments
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Coniferous forest: see comments
  • Hardwood forest: see comments
  • Overstem trees- ave. dbh: see comments
  • Human associations: houses/chimneys/attics
  • Human associations: barns, sheds
  • Human associations: see comments

Resting juvenile:

  • Cliffs/ledges: see comments
  • Tree cavities: unknown
  • Ecotones: woodland/crop fields
  • Ecotones: woodland/old fields
  • Ecotones: woodland/grassland
  • Ecotones: see comments
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Coniferous forest: see comments
  • Hardwood forest: see comments
  • Overstem trees- ave. dbh: see comments
  • Human associations: houses/chimneys/attics
  • Human associations: barns, sheds
  • Human associations: see comments

Feeding adult:

  • Ecotones: woodland/crop fields
  • Ecotones: woodland/old fields
  • Ecotones: woodland/grassland
  • Ecotones: see comments
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Coniferous forest: see comments
  • Hardwood forest: see comments

Resting adult:

  • Ecotones: woodland/crop fields
  • Ecotones: woodland/old fields
  • Ecotones: woodland/grassland
  • Ecotones: see comments
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Coniferous forest: see comments
  • Hardwood forest: see comments
  • Overstem trees- ave. dbh: see comments
  • Human associations: houses/chimneys/attics
  • Human associations: barns, sheds
  • Human associations: see comments

Breeding adult:

  • Cliffs/ledges: see comments
  • Tree cavities: unknown
  • Coniferous forest: see comments
  • Hardwood forest: see comments
  • Overstem trees- ave. dbh: see comments
  • Human associations: houses/chimneys/attics
  • Human associations: barns, sheds
  • Human associations: see comments

Comments on environmental associations:
Egg: Nest consists of regurgitated pellets, trampled by adult, which in time becomes a thick mat of organic debris upon which the eggs are laid *09*. See comments on 'breeding adult' for nest site description.
Feeding juvenile: Assumed to adopt adult feeding habits when fledged. Prior to fledging remain in nest and are fed by parents *09*. See comments on 'breeding adult' for description of nest sites.
Resting juvenile: Assumed to adopt adult resting habits when fledged.
Feeding adult: Forages in open areas: fields, meadows, forest edges *04,05,10*.
Resting adult: Roost in buildings, hollow trees, caves in cliffs; may roost in pairs *10*.
Breeding adult: Primarily nest in tree cavities (50+ cm. D.B.H.) *08*, riverbanks, holes and cliff crevices *09*. In recent times have adopted man-made structures such as barns, churches *02,04,07* and nesting boxes *09*.


LIFE HISTORY

Origin: *01,02*.

Physical description: Off-white with few markings below, darker rusty buff above, heart shaped face, no ear tufts, short square tail, long legs *03,04,05*. 14-20 in. long. 43-47 in. wingspread *04,05*; females (490 gm., ave.) bigger than males (442 gm.) *06*.

Reproduction: Barn owl mates for life; may remate if one of pair dies *04*. Wing-clapping is part of courtship, little else is known *10*. Nest in tree cavities, caves, now in buildings *02,04,08*. No nest lining except incidental feathers and regurgitated pellets *04,09,10*. A nesting cavity may be used several years *11*. Egg-laying has been recorded in all months in U.S. *15*; Most records in March to May *13,14,15*. In one study, 3-11 eggs/clutch, ave. 5 *09*. Eggs are laid at irregular intervals *07*. Incubation begins with first egg, resulting in different sizes of nestlings. In years of food shortage, the smallest starve *04*, allowing populations to adjust to varying food availability. Incubation requires 32-34 days *04,10*. Female alone incubates, male feeds and guards female and eggs *04,09*. After hatching both tend flightless young *09*.

Behavior: Territoriality is presumed *10*, home range and breeding territory sizes unknown; hunting range consisted of 140 a. of open field and 25 a. woodland in one study *12*. Barn owls sometimes roost in colonies *10*. Inactive during the day, they hunt at night (perhaps beginning at twilight in nesting season *14*). Barn owls hunt in low slow flights, or from perches, in open habitats *10*. Fields, meadows and woodland edges are preferred *04,10,14*. Barn owl usually not migratory; some individuals, particularly young of the year, fly south in fall and winter, north in spring, thereby dispersing the young *04*. Young fly when 52-56 days old *04*. Remain in care of parents for about 2 months after fledging *09*.

Limiting factors: Loss of habitat, pesticide control and control of prey populations through rodenticides may be most important causes of populations declines *02*. Man is worst enemy of adults, great horned owl is the primary natural enemy of adults and cold winters may account for some loss *14*.

Population parameters: Populations in IL are declining *01*. Productivity, mortality and survivorship rates unavailable. A 1:1 adult sex ratio may be assumed/inferred in monogamous birds that pair for life (barn owl *04*) *00*. Oldest recorded barn owl in U.S. 11 1/2 yrs. *04*.

 


MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Beneficial:

  • Maintaining early stage of ecological succession
  • Maintaining natural areas and nature preserves
  • Developing/maintaining edge (ecotones)
  • Maintaining unique or special habitat features (wetlands, snags, caves, cliffs, talises, etc.)
  • Preserving endangered species habitat
  • Performing special survey prior to prescription
  • Performing field survey prior to prescription
  • Developing/maintaining riparian habitat
  • Developing/maintaining streamside vegetation to prevent erosion and provide riparian habitat
  • Agricultural practices other than those included in ifwis list (see comments)
  • Site preparation for revegetation of mined land- establishing woody wildlife area
  • Develop/maintain prairie
  • Seed tree method of silviculture- removal cut
  • Reforestation
  • Deferring for old growth in forest areas
  • Deferring for special management (e.g. for cavities and snags) in forest areas
  • Developing/maintaining woodlots
  • Developing/maintaining forest edge
  • Developing/maintaining mature hardwood forest
  • Prohibiting hunting
  • Restricting human disturbance during migration, breeding, and nesting
  • Providing artificial nesting and roosting sites (platforms, nest boxes, cones, baskets, burro)

Adverse:

  • Clean farming
  • Applying pesticide on agricultural land
  • Strip mining
  • Applying pesticides
  • Cutting and deforestation
  • Thinning improvement cuts in forest areas
  • Salvage thinning- mortality cuts in forest areas
  • Salvage thinning- sanitation cuts in forest areas
  • Pruning in forest areas
  • Forest protection- pest control
  • Forest protection- animal pest control
  • Removal of old trees

Existing:

  • Preserving endangered species habitat
  • Performing field survey prior to prescription
  • Prohibiting hunting
  • Providing artificial nesting and roosting sites (platforms, nest boxes, cones, baskets, burro)

Comments on management practices:
Loss of habitat, pesticide poisoning and rodent control may be responsible for population decreases *02*. Recommended management practices protect and create habitat, especially nesting sites; managing forests to provide trees with nesting cavities, protecting existing nesting sites and providing artificial nest sites are suggested *02,08*.

 


REFERENCES

0. BUTCHER, MATTHEW K. 1984. ILL. NAT. HIST. SURV., 607 E PEABODY DR., CHAMPAIGN, ILL. (217)333-6846.

1. BOHLEN, H.D. 1978. AN ANNOTATED CHECK-LIST OF THE BIRDS OF ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS STATE MUSEUM, POP. SCI. SER., VOL. IX.

2. BOWLES, M.L., ED. 1981. ENDANGERED AND THREATENED VERTEBRATE ANIMALS AND VASCULAR PLANTS OF ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS DEPT. OF CONSERVATION. 189 P.

3. ROBBINS, C.S., B. BRAUN AND H.S. ZIM. 1966. BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA. GOLDEN PRESS, NEW YORK. 340 P.

4. TERRES, J.K. 1980. ENCYCLODEPIA OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. ALFRED A. KNOPF, NEW YORK. 1109 P.

5. PETERSON, R.T. 1980. A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS. HOUGHTON MIFFLIN CO., BOSTON. 384 P.

6. SNYDER, N.F. AND J.W. WILEY. 1976. SEXUAL SIZE DIMORPHISM IN HAWKS AND OWLS OF NORTH AMERICA. ORNITH. MONOGR. NO. 20.

7. SPRUNT, A. AND E.B. CHAMBERLAIN. 1970. SOUTH CAROLINA BIRD LIFE. UNIV. OF SOUTH CAROLINA PRESS, COLUMBIA. 655 P.

8. EVANS, K.E. AND R.N. CONNER. 1979. SNAG MANAGEMENT. IN MANAGEMENT OF NORTH CENTRAL AND NORTHEASTERN FORESTS FOR NONGAME BIRDS, WORKSHOP PROC. P. 214-225. U.S.D.A. FOR. SERV. GEN. TECH. REP. NC-51. NORTH CENT. FOR. EXP. STN., ST. PAUL, MN.

9. OTTENI, L.C., E.G. BOHLEN, AND C. COTTAM. 1972. PREDATOR-PREY RELATIONSHIPS AND REPRODUCTION OF THE BARN OWL IN SOUTHERN TEXAS. WILSON BULL. 84(4):434-448.

10. BURTON, J.A., ED. 1973. OWLS OF THE WORLD. E.P. DUTTON AND CO., INC. 216 P.

11. POTTER, J.K. AND J.A. GILLESPIE. 1926. NESTING HABITS OF THE BARN OWL. AUK 43(1):95-96.

12. EVANS, F.C. AND J.T. EMLEN. 1947. ECOLOGICAL NOTES ON THE PREY SELECTED BY A BARN OWL. CONDOR 49(1):3-9.

13. CRAIGHEAD, J.J. AND F.C. CRAIGHEAD. 1956. HAWKS, OWLS AND WILDLIFE. THE STACKPOLE CO., HARRISBURY, PA. 443 P.

14. BENT, A.C. 1938. LIFE HISTORIES OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS OF PREY (PART 2). U.S. NATL. MUS. BULL. VOL 170. 482 PP.

15. STEWART, P.A. 1952. DISPERSAL, BREEDING BEHAVIOR, AND LONGEVITY OF BANDED BARNOWLS IN NORTH AMERICA. AUK 69(3):227-245.

16. AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION. 1982. THIRTY-FOURTH SUPPLEMENT TO THE AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION CHECK-LIST OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. SUPPLEMENT TO THE AUK 99(3).

17. CAHN, A.R. AND J.T. KEMP. 1930. ON THE FOOD OF CERTAIN OWLS IN EAST- CENTRAL ILLINOIS. AUK 47(3):323-328.

18. SCOTT, V.E., K.E. EVANS, D.R. PATTON AND C.P. STONE. 1977. CAVITY- NESTING BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICAN FORESTS. U.S.D.A. FOR. SERV. AGRIC. HANDBOOK 511. 112 P.

19. MARTI, C.D. 1974. FEEDING ECOLOGY OF FOUR SYMPATRIC OWLS. CONDOR 76(1):45-61.

20. FISHER, A.K. 1893. THE HAWKS AND OWLS OF THE UNITED STATES. U.S.D.A., DIV. OF ORNITH. AND MAMMAL. BULL. NO. 3. 210 P.

21. EVANS, F.C. AND J.T. EMLENS. 1947. ECOLOGICAL NOTES ON THE PREY SELECTED BY A BARN OWL. CONDOR 49(1):3-9.

22. U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE. 1983. CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS. TITLE 50. WILDLIFE AND FISHERIES, CHAPTER 1, PP. 11-18. 50CFR.10.13. LIST OF MIGRATORY BIRDS. SPEC. PUBL. FED. REGISTER. GENERAL SERV. ADMIN. OCT. 1.

23. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION. 1980. CONSERVATION LAWS. CH. 16. WILDLIFE. ART. II. PAR.2.2. REPRINTED FROM ILLINOIS REVISED STATUTES, 1979. WEST PUBL. CO., ST. PAUL, MN. 120 PP.

24. KLEEN, V.M. 1984. FIELD NOTES: BREEDING SEASON, 1983. ILL. AUDUBON BULL. 207:39-45.

 


 

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