Devon Biodiversity Action Plan

Plants and Animals

Special to Devon!

The location of Devon.

Barn Owl
Tyto alba

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Barn Owls, although still widespread in Devon, have declined in numbers over recent years. Because they are much less common than they once were, an individual Species Action Plan has been created to promote them within the overall Devon Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).  (More on Devon BAP here)


Barn Owls are essentially a bird of farmland. They do not occur within the Woodland Education Centre at Offwell, because the habitat is not suitable for them. However, their ghostly shapes may be seen hunting in the half light of dawn and dusk over nearby fields and grass road verges. The decline in their numbers is linked to loss of suitable habitat as farming methods have changed, together with loss of nesting sites.

By day, Barn Owls hide in holes and old buildings. They are mainly nocturnal, hunting especially at dawn and dusk . As night begins to fall, they emerge to hunt in the half light. With their soft white plumage, they glide soundlessly over rough grassy meadows, hunting for voles and other small mammals.

Their plumage is dense and soft. The wing feathers have fringes of hair-like projections at the tips which deaden sound and allow the owl to fly as silently as a ghost. They often hunt in flight, gliding low over the ground, with frequent changes of direction, descending to catch unsuspecting prey in their powerful talons. They will also hunt from a convenient perch such as a fence post, or wall, looking and listening before pouncing.


wpe18.jpg (9106 bytes) Barn Owls have amazing hearing.  (Their ears are hidden by the feathers.) Sound may actually be more important than vision when they are hunting. Their prey can be caught in total darkness by sound alone.

However, the large eyes mean that they can also see very well at low levels of light.

While they mostly eat mammals smaller than rabbits, such as voles and mice, they may also catch and eat small birds, frogs, beetles, moths, bats and fish.

wpe19.jpg (8458 bytes) Barn Owls often nest in buildings such as barns or in holes in old trees.

They do not produce a nest as such, but just lay their eggs on ledges, beams or on the floor of lofts in old buildings.

The young hatch at slightly different intervals. This is insurance against losing the whole brood if food is temporarily short.

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