College of Veterinary Medicine |

Healthy Animals, Healthy People, Healthy Planet


Joined the club in 2003, died of unknown causes in 2005.
Tiki was a male common barn owl (Tyto alba) who joined the club in 2003.  Due to his close contact with humans at a young age, Tiki became imprinted upon humans, meaning he was too comfortable around humans to be returned to the wild, as he never learned the survival techniques necessary to do so.  In 2005, he died suddenly of an unknown cause.
Barn Owls are light to medium brown birds with white or light brown chests and legs, and have white or light brown heart-shaped facial disks.  The upper part of the wings are gray with white and black speckling, and the under part of their wings are white.  There tends to be a small amount of sexual dimorphism between males and females with females having slightly darker plumage with more spotting on their chests and under their wings.
Barn Owls are found throughout North America and adapt well to living in close proximity to humans.  They tend to be found in warmer, drier climates.  On the Palouse, they thrive in the summer but are at the edge of their winter range.  Their thinner feathering and long, un-feathered toes and legs leave them susceptible to cold temperatures and they often have difficulty with Pullman winters.  Many will not survive if the weather remains very cold for long, particularly if a heavy snow cover protects their primary prey (mice).
The majority of their diet consists of small rodents.  They are quite particular to this prey source and often will not take other food, even when faced with starvation.  Growing Barn Owls can eat 4 to 6 mice per bird each night and it is not uncommon for a pair to raise 4 -5 young to fledging.  Since adults also need 2 to 3 mice for themselves each night, a single Barn Owl can hunt up to 20 mice in one night!  While working so hard to feed their young, these owls are very valuable for keeping rodent populations in check.
One of the most impressive aspects of Barn Owls is that they can hunt in total darkness.  They can do this not with echolocation, but instead with acoustic prey location called triangulation.  Their excellent hearing is what these owls depend on.  As with some other species of owls, Barn Owl ears are slightly off from one another.  Their left ear is higher up than their right ear.  This off-set design helps the owl to hear in 3D.  They are also one of a few owls to have a small external ear flap (pinna) in front of their ear holes, which help the owl pinpoint exactly where a sound is coming from.  Their large facial disk is actually two in one (one for each ear around each eye).  These structures act like amplifiers and aid in capturing sound.  Their bill is pointed downward to help maximize the surface area of these disks. 
Barn Owls have the greatest number of vocalizations of all our owls, but most are quiet noises made at the nest.  The sounds you are most likely to hear include hisses, screeches, and bill-clapping though they also twitter softly, coo, and chirp.
Also sometimes called the Ghost Owl, Barn Owls have often been considered the ghosts of haunted houses, barns, and old castles.  Their nocturnal habits, silent flight, white underside, and eerie screeches can easily conjure up the impression of a ghost surveying its domain.

Washington State University