• Barn Owl

    Common NameBarn Owl
    Scientific NameTyto alba
    Type of ReportRare Species
    Date of Observation02/20/2017
    Number Observed1
    Reporting Observer's NameRon Payne
    Mailing Address496 Weybridge Street
    Middlebury, Vermont 05753
    United States
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    EmailEmail hidden; Javascript is required.
    Date Completed03/11/2017
    Names & Emails of Other Contributing Observers

    Don Jones -

    Ian Worley -

    Latitude of Observation0
    Longitude of Observation0
    Place Name***SITE AND BIRD(S) ARE HIGHLY VULNERABLE*** Location approximate to protect bird and location. Northwestern Addison County
    TownshipNot to be listed due to vulnerability of site and bird(s)
    Time of Day09:12 PM
    Length of Time Observed12 minutes from first vocalization till the last of the four vocalizations.
    Maximum Estimated Distance from Bird (in feet)600
    Minimum Estimated Distance from Bird (in feet)1200
    Noteworthy Weather Conditions

    Wind calm. Sky clear; bright stars and no moon. Excellent listening conditions. No traffic, farm, village, or aircraft sounds.

    Optical Equipment Used for Observation

    None use. Night darkness.

    Observer’s Previous Acquaintance With This or Similar Species

    All three observers very experienced with nighttime owling and the owl species of Vermont.

    Payne: Has seen Barn Owls once in the late 70s / early 80s at a farm in Bridport, VT when younger than ten years old. Exact date unknown.

    Jones: Saw two Barn Owls (Austrailian) while in Australia recently, and heard one calling in Wyoming a few years ago.

    Worley: No experience with Barn Owls in the wild.

    I certify that that attachments included with this report were captured during this observation event​​.
    Description of Habitat

    Large open fields and swales away from dwellings, farm complexes, and major roads. Field barn nearby. Some fields distantly bordered by trees. Short-eared Owls known from location.

    Behaviors Observed

    Unknown because of darkness. We think the bird moved slightly and maybe closer between the first and last playing of the recording.

    Description of Vocalizations

    See Verbal Narrative below.

    Verbal Narrative & Description of Observation

    The essence of this observation is the like response heard to the playing of one particular Barn Owl recording, and determining the responses were not echoes.
    Continuing an evening of owling we stopped at this location with the intent of finding Short-eared Owls, as they had been found there in previous years. After waiting for them to come to us and none appeared, we played their recordings and likewise had no responses. We had thought about Barn Owls at this location in years past but had never detected any. Hence, we thought we would try Barn Owl recordings.
    We used the “Audubon Birds” app which has offered the same four recordings for many years, ones often heard and used on other apps and media. Recording #1 “screams #1 UT” has four iterations of a hissing slur of about one second duration and which rises with acceleration in the last half second to an abrupt stop. Some ears do not hear a rising pitch, only the acceleration. Recording #2 “screams #2 CT” has three iterations that begin with a forceful hiss and then continues with a protracted descending and fading scream, taking about two seconds in all.
    The recordings were played via an iPad bluetoothed to a small, portable, battery operated 6.0 amp “Chillbox” speaker which hung from a lanyard around Worley’s neck.
    As was our practice, Worley separated himself and the speaker from Payne and Jones (the listeners). He went at least 75 feet down the road from the car. At the same time Payne was beside the car and Jones was 20 or so feet beyond the car up the road.
    Worley played Recording #2 once (14 seconds with three iterations). No responses were heard. After four or more minutes of listening, during which Jones heard a very distant Screech Owl, Worley played Recording #1 once (14 seconds with four iterations). While the #1 was playing Payne heard a response of some sort. Jones, in his independent account of the event said “Ian then played a Barn Owl call … which was immediately echoed extremely quietly from (apparently) the field in the direction of the barn. “ Worley did not hear anything since the sound of the speaker drowned out any distant sounds.
    We quietly got together and shared experiences, and decided to do another playing, but only Recording #1 … returning to our former locations. The hope was to hear the responses again for a better confirmation.
    Worley accidentally started playing Recording #2 and stopped it after one call was played. No response. He then played the desired Recording #1 and immediately after the second and fourth call in that playback, both Jones and Payne heard a mimicking response of the same call, a rising scream, though it sounded to Payne's ear to have a more hesitant quality than what was in the recording. The response only happening after two of the iterations indicated that it was not an echo.
    We then gathered again, and decided we needed to try and rule out further the possibility of hearing echoes. So Worley, with the speaker, went 100 feet up the road from the car, Payne stayed near the car, and Jones went 30 feet down the road. Jones wrote that upon the playing of Recording #1 “exactly as before, except distinctly louder, closer, and easier to locate, a very similar call was repeated from the dark field. The clincher was that Ron and I both raised our arms and pointed in the same direction at exactly the same time when we heard the call”.

    Relative Size & Shape

    Bird not seen.


    Bird not seen.

    Feet & Bill

    Bird not seen.

    Upper Back

    Bird not seen.

    Lower Back & Rump

    Bird not seen.


    Bird not seen.

    Breast, Belly, Flanks, Under Tail Coverts

    Bird not seen.


    Bird not seen.

    IMPORTANT: What similar species were eliminated when making the identification and how was this bird different?

    None of the other owls that might have been present have the prominent hiss characteristic of a Barn Owl, where a broad smear of frequencies create a cloud of noise around the core frequencies of the utterance. Whereas nearly all owls are capable of hissing, for most it is a defense call when threatened close at hand.

    Barred Owls will occasionally offer a shrieking scream that has much the same structure as the call we heard. It differs, however, as being less “fuzzy” a hiss, with a recognizable central tone that rises emphatically and great loudness (as per, as least as one might perceive, the sound of a cat in mortal pain). The call we heard was not so piercing, loud, clear or emphatic.

    Great Horned Owl hisses and squawks are at a lower pitch, and may be noticeably modulated.

    The location was not where Long-eared Owls would be expected. Their hiss, if recordings are correct, is at a lower pitch, very simple in structure, and with little modulation. Other Long-eared Owl hiss-like calls can have noticeable harmonics and/or modulations.

    The location was not where Northern Saw-whet Owls would be expected. Although they likely hiss, we didn’t find any recordings that sounded anywhere close to what was heard. We are very familiar with a wide range of Northern Saw-whet Owl vocalizations.

    The habitat was prime for Short-eared Owls, and they have been seen and heard there before. As we traditionally do at a site like this, we waited for several minutes for one or more Short-eards to come and investigate us. None did, so we played bark calls, and no birds arrived or responded vocally. We do not know of any hiss calls by this species.

    Canids and felines were ruled out due to the calls being in response to one single kind of hiss, and not otherwise.

    Other Notes & Comments

    The observation will not be entered into eBird until after the VBRC has approved it. It will then be hidden in eBird until deemed important and safe to unhide the record.

    This report was written from notes taken:Immediately After

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