Echo the Barn Owl

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animal ambassador echo barn owl

Animal Ambassador Echo
Animal Ambassador Echo
Showtime
Showtime

In the Earth Rangers show, Echo demonstrates his flying

skills, as he soars over the crowd silently

Give a Hoot
Give a Hoot

Barn owls don’t “hoot” they have screeching calls

Fun Facts

Species: European Barn owl (Tyto alba)

Favourite food: Mice and chicks

How they got their name:   With their awesome hearing, there’s bound to be a bit of an echo somewhere…

Natural behaviours: Echo can fly silently

Favourite thing to do at the Earth Rangers Centre: Playing with his toys and shredding newspaper


Here’s what Animal Trainer Shannon has to say about Echo…

Echo is very playful and curious and will hunt and pounce onto his toys, which makes him a good “hunter” as he’s nice and quiet, unlike his noisy brother, Sonic. Echo definitely likes being around his trainers, even if it’s just sitting on a perch beside them.

Shannon and Echo the Barn owl

Shannon and Echo


 

Fast Facts

  • Barn owls don’t make “hoot” sounds. They actually make shrill, screeching calls
  • They are named after their love for living in barns, which offer protection for their nests and provide tons of mice
  • They make no noise when they fly, making them pros at the super stealth attack!
  • They have quite the appetite and can gobble up 7-10 mice in a day
  • Conservation status: ‘Least concern’, but they are endangered in Canada due to modern agricultural practices that cause habitat loss and food sources to disappear

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Description

barn owl in flight

Barn owls are found on every continent on Earth, except Antarctica, making them one of the most common species of birds in the world. Barn owls are more common in the US than in Canada. They come in all different sizes; the largest is the North American Barn owl, while the smallest lives in the Galapagos Islands and is about half the size of the American Barn owl.

Despite having so many subspecies, about 35 in fact, all Barn owls have some important characteristics in common. They have long wings, a short, square-shaped tail and a large round head. Their faces are outlined with densely packed stiff feathers, creating something known as a facial disc. Sound waves hit this facial disc and are funneled directly into the owl’s ears, letting them hear even the quietest sounds. The Barn owl’s ability to hunt using sound alone is the best of any animal ever tested—they can locate mice in absolute darkness or hidden underneath deep snow!

Contrary to popular belief, Barn owls do not hoot. Hooting is only done by members of the true owl family, Strigidae. Instead, Barn owls, and other members of the Tytonidae family, make deafeningly shrill screeching calls. They are also capable of making other noises, such as snake-like hisses, rasping and clicking snaps when threatened. 

 
Habitat

barn owl in hay

Barn owls like a wide range of habitats but prefer open environments like grasslands, farm fields, marshes and even deserts. One of the things the area has to have is a nesting place to rest during the day. The owls look for small protected areas and are happy to set up nests in hollow old or standing dead trees, holes in cliff faces and riverbanks, or caves. They even use man-made structures for nesting sites, like church steeples, hay stacks, holes in houses and nest boxes, and of course lofts and rafters in barns.

Barn owls make great use of, and in some cases, depend on human settlements. Agricultural areas are perfect hunting grounds with plenty of prey. At first, the owls were believed to be bad omens but eventually people noticed how well they controlled rat and mice populations around farmland and homes, giving them their common name. They were even released into the wild on some islands to control rodent populations. Some older houses in Germany have owl holes (“eulenlochs”) cut into the side near the roof. While the original purpose of these holes was to let smoke escape from fireplaces, they also gave Barn owls a place to build their nests.


 

Ecology

Barn owl in a tree

Although they are amazing hunters, Barn owls are small and slow-moving compared to most raptors. This trait makes them relatively easy targets for birds such as eagles, kites and falcons, and even other, larger owl species like Great horned owls and Eagle owls. If threatened, Barn owls will attack with their sharp and powerful talons, which is usually an effective defense and scares away predators.

Barn owls are very good at surviving in new habitats. When young owls are old enough to live away from their parents, they travel great distances to find their own home ranges, often over 80 kilometres away from their natal area. Spots for their new home are limited to areas with mild snowfall and food.

Diet

Field mouse

Barn owls are fantastic hunters. While most stick to chasing down small birds or mammals like mice, rats, voles, shrews and muskrats, larger owls can also take down rabbits or hares. Although they may be raptors, the hunting strategy of Barn owls is quite different than other birds of prey. Where hawks and eagles rely on strength, and falcons depend on speed, Barn owls are small and slow so they use stealth and accuracy in their attacks.

Like other nocturnal (active at night) animals, Barn owls can see really well in the dark which helps them hunt at night. They also have incredible hearing to capture prey that may be hiding. Their ears are asymmetrical, or uneven, with one being a little higher on one side of their head than the other side, allowing better locating of prey. Finally, like all owls, Barn owls are silent when flying, thanks to three main adaptations: (1) flying relatively slowly; (2) tiny comb-like serrations on their first primary flight feather; and (3) long hooks called “barbules” on their flight feathers.  These traits help break up the flow of air over their wings, making for smoother flights and reducing noise from wing flapping. The Barn owl’s keen eyesight and hearing, along with its ability to fly up behind its prey silently, makes them incredibly skilled hunters.


 

Reproduction

Baby barn owl

Over 90% of Barn owls begin breeding when they are two years old. Mating pairs are usually monogamous, meaning they stay together for life, although large groups of up to 90 monogamous pairs can form during the breeding season. Breeding takes place when there is lots of food available, so breeding season timing changes depending on where the Barn owls live. In temperate regions, the breeding season usually begins in late March/early April with courtship and ends in August. Most eggs are laid in April or May, although climate change is causing some females to lay their eggs earlier in the spring. As with most bird species, younger females lay later than older females. In warmer regions, breeding can happen at any time of year. If there is a lot of prey available Barn owls may raise two broods of chicks per year!

While as many as 18 eggs may be produced, the average female will have 4 to 7, laying one every 2 or 3 days. The eggs won’t hatch all at once, but will be incubated for about 30 days. The male brings food to the nest so the female can feed the chicks for up to 25 days. After a couple of months the chicks start to fly and gain their independence. Even though the young owls may not need their parents, they will continue to share the same nesting area with the rest of their family for a while before seeking their own homes. Barn owls are very short-lived in the wild, with many only surviving to see one breeding season. On average, Barn owls will live for 20 months, or just under two years.

Status

Close up of barn owl

  • Least concern (IUCN, 2012); within Canada, populations are either threatened (British Columbia) or endangered (Ontario) (COSEWIC, 2010)
  • Modern agricultural practices are resulting in losses of habitat and food sources in some areas

On a global scale, Barn owls are doing quite well in the wild, but on a local scale, some populations are at risk of becoming extirpated, or locally extinct. This is mostly due to changes in agricultural practices as modern farms replace old structures that used to have perfect spots for nests with large metal barns. Rodent populations are now controlled with pesticides, meaning there is less food for Barn owls, and the food that is left is often poisoned. The relationship that Barn owls have shared with humans for years is disappearing, and in some parts of Canada and the United States Barn owls are now considered endangered animals.

Fortunately, many conservation groups are working to bring the Barn owl back. Building nest boxes for the owls and putting them up on barns provides new homes for these birds. Farmers are also encouraged to leave as much wild land on their property as possible, so that Barn owls will have more habitat for hunting. People living in the city can help with Barn owl conservation by supporting local organic farmers. Taking action to protect the environment can be as simple as buying locally grown organic products every now and then. By creating a larger market for organic food, pesticides may become less popular in some areas which helps Barn owls find healthier food to eat.


References: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Sarradj et al. (2011). Silent owl flight: bird flyover noise measurements. American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics 49:769-779. Barn owl Trust

 

Meet More Animal Ambassadors!

koto the new guinea singing dog 

Sonic the barn owl

Kramer the ring-tailed lemur

 

shelly the painted turtle

 

198 Comments

  1. Trixie8 says:

    Echo the owl deserves to be a ambassador and is sooo cute!!!!

    [Reply]

    Owl17 Reply:

    :)

    [Reply]

  2. ForestTheSkink says:

    My brother has a friend named Echo, we call her echo the gecko, or waffle (eggo)

    [Reply]

  3. Kinger13 says:

    they are so cute I love e’m

    [Reply]

  4. lizzypooh says:

    the barn owl is 1 of my favorite owl!!!!!

    [Reply]

  5. ajlover41animaljam says:

    Echo is beautiful!!

    [Reply]

  6. coconutgem says:

    Echo has a unique name, and is very, very elegant!

    [Reply]

  7. evetheawesome says:

    they are named after their love for living in barns which offer protection for their nests and provide tuns of mice

    [Reply]

  8. Amyh26 says:

    she looks like hedwig form harry potter.

    [Reply]

  9. Monimorg says:

    Adorable

    [Reply]

  10. bearybestfriend says:

    Like him

    [Reply]


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