Barn Owl, Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

Barn Owl, Abaco, Bahamas (Woody Bracey)


The Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is the only owl you are likely to see – and hear – on Abaco. The species is permanently resident, which is a good start in that sighting opportunities exist year-round. Although they are not at all common they can be found in particular locations, for example around Treasure Cay and Little Harbour; also on Elbow Cay, Lubbers Quarters (4 birds right now) and Man-o-War Cay (a while back). There are two other owl species recorded for Abaco: the rare Burrowing Owl (see link below for details); and the Northern Saw-whet Owl, a vanishingly rare vagrant recorded a handful of times that I don’t propose to feature unless and until it decides to visit Abaco more frequently…

Barn Owl (Birdorable)

I wrote about Barn Owls on Abaco many moons ago. I don’t usually rehash previous posts, but I am returning to the topic because of a recent barn owl sighting on Elbow Cay that caused interest, excitement and some speculation. 

Barn Owl, Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas (Becky Marvil)

Barn Owl, Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas (Becky Marvil)

The shrill wheezing cry of the Barn Owl – known in some places as the ‘screech owl’ (which, strictly, is a different owl species) – is unmistakeable. Barn owls also make an intimidating hissing noise. Mainly nocturnal, they fly noiselessly like white ghosts in the night. If you are lucky enough to see one in the daytime, you’ll be struck by the beautiful heart-shaped face and (if close enough) the delicate markings.

 Patrik Aberg Xeno-Canto

Both photos above were taken on Abaco. Woody Bracey’s header image is featured inTHE BIRDS OF ABACO“. Becky Marvil’s photo was taken near Treasure Cay. I’ve never seen a barn owl on Abaco, but  I’ve been lucky enough to get close to them in the UK. For those who have never seen one, here are a few of my own images that show what wonderful birds they are. They were photographed at a raptor rescue centre, so I am not going to pretend that these shots were taken in the wild. That would never do. 

Barn Owl (Keith Salvesen)Barn Owl Dorset (Keith Salvesen) Barn Owl Dorset (Keith Salvesen)Barn Owl 4 (Keith Salvesen)

This close-up of the barn owl above shows the typical speckling on its pure white front, and the beautiful wing patterns. Amazingly for such a large bird, an adult weighs a mere 350g or so. As a comparison, The Birds of Abaco book weighs 2kg!

Barn Owl close-up (Keith Salvesen)

This fluffy baby barn owl had been rescued and was being cared for in a sanctuary before being returned to the wild. Whimsy is rarely permitted  in this blog, but seriously, folks – cuteness overload!Barn Owl 6 (Keith Salvesen)




Credits: Woody Bracey, Becky Marvil, Keith Salvesen, Patrik Aberg /  Xeno-Canto (audio), RSPB (video), Birdorable (Cartoon)


Burrowing Owl, Elbow Cay, Abaco a (Milton Harris)BURROWING OWLS ON ELBOW CAY, ABACO

I hadn’t planned to revisit the birds of Elbow Cay so soon (2 days!) after the Key West Quail-Dove post, in which I alluded to another rare and special species there, the Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia. However, Milton Harris – resident and birder – has already sent me some photos of his recent sighting at the north end of the cay, and they are so great that I am going to get them ‘out there’ (the interweb-cloud-ether-space-thing) right away. Carpe diem.**

“I’m watching you watching me. Don’t think I haven’t seen you…”Burrowing Owl, Elbow Cay, Abaco c (Milton Harris)

When I previously featured the BURROWING OWL, I used my own photos (not taken on Abaco). Click on the link to see them and to get some facts about these cute little birds. I also added reports of two sightings on the mainland in the Cherokee / Little Harbour area late last year. As I wrote then, “on Abaco, this little owl is a rare vagrant, presumably visiting from Florida which has the nearest resident population. There have been few reported sightings; and for ‘The Birds of Abaco’ we were unable to locate a photo taken on Abaco.”

Burrowing Owl, Elbow Cay, Abaco e (Milton Harris)

Here’s a wonderful shot of the bird’s legs and feet. Despite their small size overall, the claws (talons?) mark out this owl as a fearsome predator of small creatures. One with hairy toes, too.Burrowing Owl, Elbow Cay, Abaco b (Milton Harris)


Very unlikely indeed I’m afraid (unless you have been shown roughly where to look), and for 2 reasons. Firstly, the burrowing owl is rated as an uncommon to rare vagrant on Abaco. There aren’t even reported sightings every year. So it’s a question of ‘right place, right time’, with a bit of local knowledge, a lot of luck, and excellent eyesight (see below) – the one positive being that, unlike most owl species, these birds are active during the day as well as nocturnally.

Secondly, even were you to be given the exact location of a recently-sighted owl, it’s still a long shot that you would actually spot it, unless you happened to see it in flight. Otherwise, it will be most likely be sitting completely still on a branch in the coppice, quite well camouflaged, watching you stealthily walk by…

Would you notice this bird in the coppice from 75 feet away?Burrowing Owl, Elbow Cay, Abaco f (Milton Harris)

On the other hand, you could be in luck. Milton got a quick shot at this owl as it flew up onto a shed roof in the sunshine. But the bird knows he’s been seen, and he didn’t stay long… I reckon the one-legged pose is particularly neat!Burrowing Owl Elbow Cay, Abaco (Milton Harris) 2 sm

Burrowing Owl, Elbow Cay, Abaco d (Milton Harris)




** or, as Horace fully wrote, “carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero“; seize the day, don’t place too much belief in the future…

Credits: All photos taken on Elbow Cay (north end), Abaco by Milton Harris – with many thanks for use permission


Burrowing Owl 1


The Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia is a small owl found in the open landscapes of North and South America. Their natural habitat is in grasslands, agricultural areas, and other open dry areas with low vegetation – even deserts. They nest and roost in burrows. Unlike most owls, Burrowing Owls are often active during the day, though they do most of their hunting from dusk until dawn when they can make use of their excellent night vision and acute hearing. 

On Abaco, this little owl is a rare vagrant, presumably visiting from Florida which has the nearest resident population. There have been few reported sightings; and for ‘The Birds of Abaco’ we were unable to locate a photo taken on Abaco. The main images featured here were taken by me of a rescue bird that is used in wonderful free-flying displays. As you can see, it is in prime condition. 


STOP PRESS Sept 27 Alison Ball from Little Harbour, Abaco has kindly contacted me to say “I saw a burrowing owl sometime during the first week of October last year here in Little Harbour.  I was watching some parrots eating the berries in the top of a large ficus tree by the edge of the road, and suddenly realized that the owl was sitting on a lower branch of the same tree, right at my eye level and only about 8 feet away.  We stared at each other for at least a minute – plenty long enough to get a definite identification – then he flapped off into the woods.  It was about 8 a.m.” Any other reports of sightings would be very welcome.

STOP PRESS Nov 5 Keith Kemp, with his sharp-eyed daughter Emily (11), saw one at the side of the road near Cherokee after dusk – possibly the Little Harbour one? It was Emily – already a promising birder, I gather – who first said ‘…it’s a little owl – he’s so cute’. Spot-on, too, Emily. The only other candidate for Abaco, the Barn Owl, could not be described as ‘little’. 

STOP PRESS 2016 NEW POST Burrowing Owls on Elbow Cay HERE



Burrowing Owl 1a

In the next photos you can see the bulging eye lensesBurrowing Owl 5Burrowing Owl 2


  • They have spectacular eyebrows above their piercing yellow eyes
  • When hunting, they use a perch to spot prey, then swoop down on it; or ‘hawk’ for insects in flight
  • Their long legs enable them to chase prey on the ground when hunting in open terrain
  • Burrowing owls mainly eat large insects and small rodents and reptiles
  • Unlike other owls, they also eat fruits and seeds
  • When agitated or excited, they bob their heads
  • They are one of the few avian species that benefit from deforestation
  • The owls often return to the same burrow nest each year
  • A major cause of mortality is vehicle-strike as they cross roads
  • Prehistoric fossil remains have been found in the Bahamas, showing they were once resident
  • There are many subspecies including a Floridian one, where they are ‘of special concern’
  • Florida Atlantic University campus is a National Audubon Society designated burrowing owl sanctuary
Show us, I hear you ask, a burrowing owl in a typical burrow for which it is namedBurrowing Owl Alan Vernon Wikimedia

Burrowing Owls may get quickly fed up with being photographed…Burrowing Owl 6

“Oh, do stop. I’ve had enough of you”Burrowing Owl 8 Burrowing Owl 9

“Right. I can’t see you anymore. You are sooooo gone”Burrowing Owl 3

The Burrowing Owl featured in a 1991 Bahamas bird stamp seriesBurrowing Owl - Bahamas - Animal Vista

I rather like this woodcut by Andrea RichBurrowing Owls woodcut 1987 andrea

Burrowing_Owl_Florida (Tom Friedel Wiki)

If anyone has seen one of these little guys anywhere on Abaco, I’d love to know when and where… [Now see the 2 stop press sightings near the start of this post]


Credits: RH, Alan Vernon & Tom Friedel Wiki, Andrea Rich, Cornell Lab,