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The Barn Owl: Its Role and Its Endangerment

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The Barn Owl: Its Role and its Endangerment Often times, it goes unrealized that there are important roles and purposes distributed amongst the vast fauna on Earth. It is this diversity which maintains a sense of equilibrium when it comes to animal populations and/or flora-related phenomena. The Barn Owl (Tyto alba), falling under the smaller side of owl species, exemplifies itself as both a fundamental element in rodent control as well as a symbol of ghostly beauty. Yet, survival of the species is not guaranteed. Numerous factors, including both naturally occurring as well as human-caused, have contributed to the owl’s decline in recent years. Additionally, given that their breeding cycles produce a limited amount of young in conjunction to their short life spans, Tyto alba’s numbers are predicted to reach further abatement in the near future. Human-associated activity has been regarded as a significant component in the Barn Owl’s downfall; nonetheless, human involvement in the conservation of the species can also mend this trend and bring it back towards escalation. Having a wingspan of approximately 85cm, Tyto alba is considered relatively small in comparison to other species of owls (Bunn, Warburton, and Wilson 23). They weigh between 470 and 570g (1.0-1.3lbs) and feature an array of distinct physical qualities (Martin, Raid, and Branch 1). Their head resembles a heart and have no visible ear tufts as other species of owl portray. Their beak is typically of a pink shade and is followed by large eyes with nearly pitch-black irises (Bunn, Warburton, and Wilson 23). However, most prominent of all its traits is its light color which gives it its “ghostly appearance.” They can be seen in golden-brown colors and often feature white breasts; males tend to have larger undersides with a variety of dark spots while females are distinguished by larger and darker spots (“Barn Owl: Tyto Alba”). Quite commonly, these owls are perceived as excellent hunters, for they are classified as the best identifiers of a sound’s particular location. With [scientifically-proven] incredible hearing, the Barn Owl can precisely pinpoint the origin of its prey’s sound as well as analyze its distinct nature to identify how it moves (“Barn Owl”). Additionally, and like many species of owls, the Barn Owl’s sight is unmistakably one of the best, for it can find prey in complete darkness and dive in to capture it ominously and with ease (“Barn Owl”). It is with good reason that these creatures were regularly feared; with hunting skills of this level, it would seem logical to flee from the owl’s long claws and phantom-like image. Despite Tyto alba’s fierce, hunter-like nature, it provides a great service to its surroundings, one not fully appreciated by the common eye.
The Barn Owl primarily consumes small mammals such as mice, rats, gophers, etc. in addition to insects, fish, and even smaller birds (“New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide”). Although small, Tyto alba’s accelerated metabolism allows it to eat more than one and a half times its own weight per day circa the age of 5-6 weeks (Brendle, “Farmers, Conservationists Seek Return of Barn Owls”). This trend significantly reduces rodent populations in farm areas and thus removes the need for harmful pesticides. Limiting pesticides also accounts for sustaining Barn Owl population; reducing the risk of poisoning due to contaminated rodents. To add to the sheer amount of rodent prevention it is calculated that a family of two adult Barn Owls along with a brood of 6 young contributes to over a 1000 rodent loss over a three-month nesting period (Brendle, “Farmers, Conservationists Seek Return of Barn Owls”). However, continuation of this natural balance is not certain, for farmlands and nest areas have proven scarce over the course of time.
Tyto alba typically resides in established crevices and cavities wherever they may be available. From hollow tree-trunks and caves to even old buildings [barns] and chimneys, the Barn Owl dwells in safe areas to protect its young, in locations isolated from other creatures and stable enough to be reused throughout generations (“New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide”). Found inhabiting most of North and South America as well as parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, the Barn Owls prefers open pastures and/or agricultural fields, avoiding terrains such as woodlands as well as mountain ranges (“New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide”). Unfortunately, due to the replacement of wooden barns with corrugated metal structures, the Barn Owl has lost a vast portion of its idea of a habitable location. Inclusively, the preparation of land for housing and other forms of human development has done away with nesting sites and has left these creatures without viable replacements for homes (Brendle, “Farmers, Conservationists Seek Return of Barn Owls”). Tyto alba is known for revisiting nesting sites year after year during its lifespan, constant removal of said locations has resulted in a steady decline in population. The species faces many threats and perpetual urbanization in no way aids its revival as a non-endangered species; yet, there are plentiful solutions which have goals to revert what damage has been done and provide substitute nests.
Word has risen of the Barn Owl’s diminishing numbers, and numerous plans of action have been initiated to ensure the conservation of this majestic creature. Abundant information regarding owl sightings has been taken into consideration to aid in the recovery of the species. “After initial data is compiled, biologists will be able to determine where conservation initiatives should be directed” (“Barn Owl Conservation Initiative”). Current projects have proven effective and have commenced in several states where Tyto alba inhabits. As previously iterated, Barn Owls tend to use existing cavities to nest, and thus, due to the lack of natural and or man-made cavities, nest box programs have taken effect in many locations around the world and the U.S. These nest boxes are often elevated and they are built to accommodate Barn Owls’ preference for isolation. They have proved themselves suitable habitats for these creatures and further research to improve upon the program is underway (“New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide”). Careful execution of the program should improve numbers greatly, populations have dropped drastically in some locations and a solution must be implemented quickly for the sake of the species. Reduction in Barn Owl population is indeed drastic; however, it can and has been combated as proven by organizations such as the Hawk and Owl Trust (“Welcome to the Hawk and Owl Trust”).
In Britain, the Hawk and Owl Trust credits the installation of nesting boxes with helping to reduce a steep decline in the country's barn owl population. According to the group, the number fell from about 12,000 pairs in the 1930s to 3,000 or so by the 1960s. Today, the group estimates that Britain's barn owl population is 4,000 pairs. (Brendle) Nest box designs are simple and can even be built at home. They are wrapped with an aluminum surface to drive away larger rodents such as raccoons and have approximately 2-3 square feet of interior room (“Help Bring Back the Barn Owl!”). They perform most effectively in open areas such as grasslands or hayfields, and provide excellent conditions for Barn Owls to hunt nearby. Successful nest boxes are typically elevated about 10 feet into the air and placement near barns seems to present effective alternatives to burrowing within barns (“Help Bring Back the Barn Owl!”). It may not be seen as a concept and project that has gone great lengths to innovate, nonetheless, it contributes a practical solution to an extensive issue. Furthermore, the system’s implementation has the potential for improvement in terms of its resemblance to natural environments. Design and functionality work best when integrated most into the surroundings. Finally, involvement in this system that can result in a rise in population; however, it must be understood that these creatures are to be preserved for their sake—for the sake of the purpose they serve and their importance in the ecosystem. The conservation of Tyto alba plays a key role in the maintenance of an ecological agreement when it comes to the human-owl relationship. To humanity, the Barn Owl has assumed the position of a natural pesticide in the case of rodents in farmlands. It moderates pest population and ensures an environment suitable for cultivation. Yet, not without its downside: Increasingly industrialized farms and a lack of untouched land have contributed to the destruction of Barn Owl habitats and thus, have brought a halt to the species’ growth around the world. This magnificent creature has been put in endangerment primarily due to human behavior and it goes without a doubt that it has suffered unnecessarily. The consequences brought about on account of this detrimental action have risen concerns regarding whether or not crops could survive without proper control over rodents, insects, and other crop-consuming creatures. It is a system out of balance and its key position is in danger of elimination. A beneficial species is at stake and the society has enough tools to save it; the common man/woman owns sufficient information to build anything from box nests to other complex structures suitable for Barn Owl reproduction. If anything is to be done to save this “ghost owl,” it must be done quickly; Tyto alba can return to growth.

Works Cited
“Barn Owl Conservation Initiative.” Portal.state.pa.us. Pennsylvania Game Commission. 2013. Web. 21 Feb. 2016. “Barn Owl.” Ct.gov. Department of Energy & Environmental Protection. 2015. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.
“Barn Owl.” Peregrinefund.org. EarthShare. N.d Web. 21 Feb 2016.
Brendle, Anna. “Farmers, Conservationists Seek Return of Barn Owls.” News.nationalgeographic.com. National Geographic Society. 30 Oct. 2002. Web. 21 Feb 2016.
Bunn, D. S., A. B. Warburton, and R. D. S. Wilson. The Barn Owl. London: T & AD Poyser Ltd, 1982. Print.
“Help Bring Back the Barn Owl!” dnr.illinois.gov. Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board. N.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.
Martin, James M., Richard N. Raid, and Lyn C. Branch. “Barn Owl (Tyto alba).” Researchgate.net. University of Florida IFAS Extension. N.d. Web. 21 Feb 2016. “New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide.” Conservewildlifeenj.org. Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. 2016. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.
“Welcome to the Hawk and Owl Trust.” Hawkandowl.org. Hawk and Owl Trust. 2016. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.

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