Under the Open Sky: All About Barn Owls

By Kim Mason
For The Chronicle
Some years ago, when I first moved into my ancient farmhouse with the big backyard and a towering barn out back, I was naïve enough to believe that every big barn came equipped with a Barn Owl or two — I figured it was standard issue.
You had a barn, a Barn Owl came with it — or so I thought.

A few years later, when I found half of a body of a Barn Owl lying in the pasture, beneath one of the twin firs in the field. My heart broke in half.

Kim Mason / For The Chronicle

I didn’t see another Barn Owl for many more years — until this year, that is.
Now, after several summers of lonely living — of missing their raspy, bone-chilling screeches and the haunting metallic clickity-clack sounds — I have again been blessed with a pair of lovely Barn Owls in my old barn.
And in late May, the two owls became four when their little owlets hatched.
Watching my resident Barn Owl family grow has sparked a new (or renewed) interest in owls. The internet is a wonderful tool for learning and over the last few weeks I have learned a lot of new and interesting facts about owls.

Did You Know?
Did you know that a Barn Owls’ flight is nearly without sound? The whisper of a Barn Owl’s wings is at so low a frequency — around one kilohertz — that the sound of his flight is not heard by a rodent who cannot hear sounds lower than about three kilohertz.
Did you know that the “ears” of a Great Horned Owl (a frequent predator of Barn Owls, by the way) don’t have anything to do with hearing? The ear openings are asymmetrical (and, for some owls, their entire skull is asymmetrical), which helps the owl to locate the direction of their prey by sound.
Did you know that in winter a Northern Saw-whet Owl will store frozen rodent kills in hidden caches, then will thaw them out later by “brooding” the frozen carcass?
Did you know that when a Western Screech-Owl feels threatened he pretends to be a tree? The Screech-Owl stretches its body into a long shape, tighten the feathers against their body, and will stay motionless. They are so committed to their tree act that some have been caught by hand while in this state.
Did you know the Northern Pygmy Owl — Washington’s smallest owl — is a daytime predator and can be such a selective diner that, if food is plentiful, he will only eat bird brains and insect abdomens?

Spotting Owls
It isn’t very common, but you may occasionally flush a roosting owl from his perch during the day as you walk woodland trails.
The best way to spot an owl is to go “owling” at night, when owls are actively hunting and vocalizing.
If you hear an owl calling, approach the area slowly and quietly, lights out as much as possible. Try to visualize where the owl may be perched before turning on your light.
Owling alone can be quite difficult because the owl calls have a certain ventriloquial quality that will have you thinking the owl is one direction when it is really in another.

Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer and photojournalist. Visit her website The (Almost) Daily News (almostdailynews.com), find her on Facebook (Kimberly Mason – The Chronicle), call 269-5017 or email kim@almostdailynews.com.