Ghostly Hunters: An Icon of the British Countryside, the Barn Owl Demands a Great Deal of Patience, Research and Technical Skill from Photographers Looking to Capture Its Ghostly Visage and Distinctive Plumage

By Wilson, Keith | Geographical, February 2012 | Go to article overview

Ghostly Hunters: An Icon of the British Countryside, the Barn Owl Demands a Great Deal of Patience, Research and Technical Skill from Photographers Looking to Capture Its Ghostly Visage and Distinctive Plumage


Wilson, Keith, Geographical


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Of the six species of owl resident in the British Isles, the barn owl is easily the best known. Its broad, snowy-white, heart-shaped face and wide-set eyes make this silent hunter one of our most recognisable birds.

Although it is the most widely distributed of the world's owls, in Britain, barn owls have been in steady decline for decades. According to the Barn Owl Conservation Network, the number of breeding pairs fell from 12,000 to 4,000--a 70 per cent decline--between the 1930s and 1980s.

That low point stirred many conservation and environmental groups into action, determined to arrest the decline. Nearly 30 years later, it remains a matter of debate among conservationists as to whether the drop in barn owl numbers has slowed or stopped altogether, but they remain clear about the main threats to these birds: loss of nesting sites and loss of habitat supporting their prey.

An intense program of nest-box distribution in recent years has proven highly successful in providing barn owls with replacement sites for the barns that have either been demolished or converted into homes. In this respect, barn owls have proven remarkably adaptable, and conservationists now believe that up to three quarters of all British barn owls live in manmade nest boxes. However, for a bird at the top of the food chain, this remains a disturbing point: it demonstrates how an icon of rural Britain was first threatened by human impact on the environment, only then to become dependant upon our intervention for its survival.

Habitat loss

Barn owls aren't woodland birds; unlike other owls, they prefer open country, and thrived in the British countryside for centuries up to the Second World War. Back then, farming was less intensive, landholdings were smaller and many more fields were left uncut, thereby providing the perfect habitat for the barn owl's favourite food--voles.

After decades of mechanised farming, the British countryside is now virtually devoid of the unmown, ungrazed fields where voles and field mice thrive. Instead of emerging from the rafters of a farmer's barn at dusk to hunt over hectares of rough pasture, barn owls have been forced to hunt these rodents in the overgrown grasses of riverbanks and roadside verges. A barn owl swooping along the edge of a country road may be a spectacular sight, but all too often, these magnificent birds are ending their days as roadkill.

Another threat to the barn owl population is the weather. Severe winters with heavy snow have a major impact on the abundance of voles, lowering their breeding success and resulting in a diminished food source for the owls.

When long grass is covered by heavy snow, hunting becomes more difficult and the owls will hover above, listening for the tiny prey and watching for any sign of movement in the snow that will give away its position. The head of a barn owl is beautifully evolved for this purpose: its eyes are set well apart on its broad, flat face for a wide field of view, and the ears are set forward (but hidden by the white facial plumage) to make hearing more acute.

Sightings and distribution

Ironically, a hard winter improves the chance of seeing barn owls as the birds need to fly more often and farther to search for prey. Also, dusk and dawn are the peak times for hunting, and during winter, these coincide with the times when more people are out and about.

So where do you need to be to see a barn owl in the wild? According to conservation groups, most public sightings are by car drivers, startled by the flash of white and tawny plumage. Barn owls also shriek and hiss (they don't hoot), which adds to the drama of their ghostly appearance. A sighting may be brief, but such is the distinctive physical form and colouring of a barn owl that it can't be easily mistaken for any other bird of prey.

Eastern England, from Yorkshire down to Lincolnshire and the fens of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, is regarded as the best region in which to see barn owls. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Ghostly Hunters: An Icon of the British Countryside, the Barn Owl Demands a Great Deal of Patience, Research and Technical Skill from Photographers Looking to Capture Its Ghostly Visage and Distinctive Plumage
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.