Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Neighbors: Common Barn Owls

In this cage complex there are nineteen educational birds, covering fourteen species, from the little American Kestrels, to the biggest beast of us all, the Ferruginous Hawk. Some of us are nocturnal, some diurnal, and others crepuscular (active during the dawn and dusk hours). With all this variety, you can imagine how entertaining it is to live here!

Today's example comes from the cage next door to mine, which houses two Common Barn Owls, one male and one female*. He's been here for ages, whereas she came in about four years ago. Ever since they moved in together, they've been inseparable. They're always cozied up next to each other inside an A-frame, or side-by-side on a perch.


The male is very protective of his lady friend; he is at her beck and call. When food is dropped in the cage, he brings some to her before eating his own portion, and when he is taken out of the cage for enrichment or a Performance, he seems restless and eager to return to her.

I've overheard many of the Humans' theories for this behavior, including that he's been here longer and took her under his wing, or that she needs support and help because she flies poorly. Or, even, that they are in the Barn Owl version of love.

Funnily enough, it's nothing as romantic as that. If the Humans could better understand her hisses and screeches, they'd know that he feeds her before eating his own food because she is a banshee who will scream his ears off if he neglects her for even an instant. In Human language, her screaming is the equivalent of "WHERE'S MY DINNER??? BRING ME THAT MOUSE!!" followed by the sound of a whip cracking.

But don't worry: this is completely normal Common Barn Owl behavior, and they both are happy with the roles Nature gave them. In that way, I guess it is like the Barn Owl version of being in love.

Whichever way you slice it, it makes for interesting neighbors.


*Educational side note: Unlike most raptors, Common Barn Owls actually have an overt sexual dimorphism, meaning the males and females look different. Specifically, the female's chest and face is a dirty white-brown** color, whereas the male's face and chest are snowy white. 
**Please don't tell the female I called her "dirty white-brown", or I'll never hear the end of it. 

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