The Eastern Barn Owl, an Australia-wide version of one of the world’s most widely distributed land birds, is found in most Australian habitats ranging from desert to woodland. Wherever there are tree hollows and even caves for nesting, Barn Owls are able to breed in all seasons, with large clutches to take advantage of eruptions of native rodents and, now, introduced house mice in farmland.
Barn Owls are not suited to the deep forests of the east coast, Tasmania and south –west Western Australia which are prime habitat for the Masked Owl. Accordingly, Barn Owls are shown as absent from the Margaret River region by Johnstone and Storr in the WA Museum’s 1998 Handbook of Western Australian Birds. When Barn Owls did turn up here, they were likely short-term immigrants dispersing from an inland ‘bust’ following a ‘boom’. However, Barn Owls are now so often and consistently recorded that they are likely resident in the highly suitable cleared habitats we have created, helping manage our farmland rodents.
Barn Owls are smaller and slighter in body than the Masked Owl although a large (female) Barn Owl is similar to a small (male) Masked Owl. Both are ‘watch and pounce’ hunters but the smaller, more agile Barn Owl is also an excellent ‘courser’, gliding over open ground to spot and snatch prey. Key distinguishing features of a Barn Owl are little feathering of the legs, broken edging to the facial disc and fewer bars on the wing feathers. The Barn Owl’s screech is a high pitched scream, while the Masked Owl’s is a deeper, raspy prolonged cough.