barn-owl defined in 1930 yearbarn-owl - Barn-Owl;
barn-owl - Beak yellowish white; upper parts light tawny yellow minutely variegated with brown, grey, and white; face and lower plumage white, the feathers of the margin tipped with brown Length, fourteen inches.
The barn-owl is one of the very few species that have almost a world-wide range. It is resident throughout the British Islands, and inhabits the greater part of Europe; it extends to Africa, including Madagascar; to India and America, and to the Malaysian, Australian, and Polynesian regions; and is found in islands so widely separated and far removed from the mainland as the Azores, Madeira, the Canaries, and Cape de Verde. The short-eared owl has a distribution just as wide, or even wider; but that bird, wherever found, is of a wandering habit, making his home and breeding-place wherever food is abundant, and staying not where it fails him. His action resembles, only on a vaster scale, that of the nomads of the human race, who break up their camp and move away from the district that no longer affords pasture to their cattle. Thus, in the case of this species, the vagrant habit may be held to account for so extensive a range. But the barn-owl's universality cannot be accounted for in the same way, since he is, in most countries, a stay-at-home bird, and spends his whole life, from year's end to year's end, in the same spot. We can only conjecture that at some former and very remote period in the history of his species he, too, had a vagrant disposition; or else that he is a very ancient bird on the earth, and has had unlimited time to get so widely dispersed; also, that the barn-owl is one of those rare types that can exist unaltered in a great variety of conditions. One of our domestic birds, the goose, affords an instance of the unchangeableness of some types in all regions of the globe; but the goose has been carried everywhere by adventurous white men, while the barn-owl, by means unknown to us, has distributed himself over the earth.
Another general remark about this most strange and fascinating fowl may be made in this place. The barn-owl, being so widely distributed, and in many countries the most common species, and being, furthermore, the only member of its order that attaches itself by preference to human habitations, and is a dweller in towns as well as in rural districts, is probably the chief inspirer and object of the innumerable ancient owl superstitions which still flourish in all countries among the ignorant. His blood-curdling voice, his whiteness, and extraordinary figure, and, when viewed by day on his perch in some dim interior, his luminous eyes and great round face, and wonderful intimidating gestures and motions, must powerfully affect the primitive mind, for in that low intellectual state whatever is strange is regarded as supernatural.
Before sitting down to write this little history I went out into the woods, and was so fortunate as to hear three owls calling with unearthly shrieks to one another from some large fir-trees under which I was standing, and, listening to them, it struck me as only natural that in so many regions of the earth this bird should have been, and should still be, regarded as an evil being, a prophet of disaster and death.
The barn-owl takes up his abode by preference in a building of some kind - an old ruin, a loft in a barn or an outhouse; but above most sites he prefers an ivyclad church-tower, on which account he has been called the church-owl. He also inhabits caves and holes in cliffs, and hollow trees in woods. He spends the daylight hours, standing upright and motionless, dozing on his perch; and, where he is persecuted, he does not stir abroad until dark. When he is not molested he leaves his hiding-place before sunset, and is bo little suspicious of man as to appear like a domestic bird in his presence. He preys on mice, rats, moles, insects, and even fish, which he has been observed to take in his claws from lakes and ponds. The indigestible portions of the small animals he swallows - the fur, feathers, bones, wing-cases, and scales - are disgorged in compact round pellets about the size of a cob-nut; and from an examination of a vast number of such pellets, it would appear that about nine-tenths of the food of this owl consists of mice.
This fact is now so generally known that the owl, from being one of the most persecuted of birds, is becoming a general favourite; and farmers who formerly shot it, and nailed it, with outspread wings, to their barn-doors, in order that all might see and admire their zeal in ridding the earth of so misshapen a pest, are now only anxious to have the ' feathered cats ' living in their barns again.
The owl makes no nest, and lays from two to six eggs, which are white and nearly round. It has the curious habit of laying two or three eggs, and, long after incubation has begun, laying others, and then others again, so that young of different ages and eggs not yet near hatching may be found in the nest together. The young make a curious snoring noise, which is their hunger cry; and it has been said that this cry is also occasionally uttered by the old bird on the wing.
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