BARN OWLS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS


Barn Owl, Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

Barn Owl, Abaco, Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

BARN OWLS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

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)

RELATED POSTS

 OWLS OF ABACO (2) – BURROWING OWLS

BURROWING OWLS ON ELBOW CAY

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

OWLS OF ABACO (2): BURROWING OWLS – RARE VISITORS


Burrowing Owl 1

OWLS OF ABACO (2): BURROWING OWLS – RARE VISITORS

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. 

ABACO SIGHTINGS REPORTED SINCE THIS POST

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

RANGE MAP

athe_cuni_AllAm_map

Burrowing Owl 1a

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

A DOZEN QUICK BURROWING OWL FACTS FOR SHORT ATTENTION SPANS

  • 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 rich.com

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]

RELATED POSTS

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

OWLS OF ABACO (1): THE BARN OWL


Barn Owl, Abaco2

Barn Owl, Abaco, Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

OWLS OF ABACO (1): THE BARN OWL

Realistically, 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 the opportunities for sighting one exist year-round. Although they are not at all common they can be found in particular locations, for example the Treasure Cay area. There are two other owl species recorded for Abaco: the Burrowing Owl, a rare vagrant (post coming soon); 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, Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas (Becky Marvil)

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

The shrill banshee cry of the Barn Owl – known in many places as the ‘screech owl’ (which, strictly, is a different owl species) – is unmistakeable. Mainly nocturnal, they fly noiselessly like white ghosts in the night. If you are lucky enough to see one in daytime, you’ll be struck by the beautiful heart-shaped face and (if close enough) the delicate markings. We are lucky enough to live in barn owl country in the UK. In summer we often hear them at night as they hunt for rodents and other small mammals. Last night, for example, at 2.30 a.m. Barn owls also make an intimidating hissing noise.

[audio http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/BPSDQEOJWG/XC186611-Tornuggla-%282014-06-01%29-LS114612.mp3] 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 a couple – last summer in Dorset, and last week in Cornwall. For those who have never seen one, here is a gallery of my own images that show what wonderful birds they are.

Barn Owl (Keith Salvesen)Barn Owl Dorset 3 copy Barn Owl Dorset 2 copyBarn Owl 2 (Keith Salvesen)Barn Owl 4 (Keith Salvesen)

 This close-up of a barn owl shows the typical speckling on its pure white front, and the wing patternsBarn Owl 5 (Keith Salvesen)

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

Credits: Woody Bracey, Becky Marvil, RH, Xeno-Canto (audio), RSPB (video)