Owls (Family Tytonidae & Family Strigidae)
Barn owls (Family Tytonidae) are one of the two families of owls, the
other being the typical owls, Family Strigidae. They are medium to
large sized owls with large heads and characteristic heart-shaped faces.
They have long, strong legs with powerful talons. They also differ from
Strigidae in structural details relating in particular to the sternum and
The barn owls are a wide ranging family, absent only from northern
North America, Saharan Africa and large areas of Asia. They live in a
wide range of habitats from deserts to forests, and from temperate
latitudes to the tropics. The majority of the 16 living species of barn
owls are poorly known. Some, like the Madagascar red owl, have barely
been seen or studied since their discovery, in contrast to the common
barn owl, which is one of the best known owl species in the world.
However, some sub-species of the common barn owl possibly deserve
to be a separate species, but are very poorly known.
The barn-owls' main characteristic is the heart shaped facial disc, formed
by stiff feathers which serve to amplify and locate the source of sounds
when hunting. Further adaptations in the wing feathers eliminate sound
caused by flying, aiding both the hearing of the owl listening for hidden
prey and keeping the prey unaware of the owl. Barn-owls overall are
darker on the back than the front, usually an orange-brown colour, the
front being a paler version of the back or mottled, although there is
considerable variation even amongst species. The bay-owls closely
resemble the Tyto owls but have a divided facial disc, ear tufts, and
tend to be smaller.
True owls or typical owls (Family Strigidae) are one of the two generally
accepted families of owls, the other being the barn owls (Tytonidae).
This large family comprises around 189 living species in 25 genera. The
typical owls have a cosmopolitan distribution and are found on every
continent except Antarctica.
While typical owls (hereafter referred to simply as owls) vary greatly
in size, with the smallest species, the elf owl, being a hundred times
smaller than the largest, the Eurasian eagle owl and Blakiston's fish
owl, owls generally share an extremely similar body plan. They tend
to have large heads, short tails, cryptic plumage and round facial discs
around the eyes. The family is generally arboreal (with a few exceptions
like the burrowing owl) and obtain their food on the wing. The wings are
large, broad, rounded and long. Like other birds of prey many owl species
exhibit reverse sexual dimorphism in size, where females are larger than
males (as opposed to the more typical situation in birds where males are
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