Barn Owl in Moonlight Card
Size: 297mm x 210mm
Original Painting Medium: Oil on Canvas
Scientific Name: Tyto alba
In 1999 I was requested to portray a barn owl flying across a meadow at night. For my oil painting commission, I decided to portray my owl on a bright moonlight night. Needing reference material, I initially visited an owl sanctuary but later during the commission was given the opportunity to study and portray accurately, the detail and beautiful markings of this remarkable bird.
Sadly a friend had found a dead barn owl on the roadside and knowing that I collect reference material, he very kindly brought it home for me. To be able to observe this beautiful bird in such detail was both breath-taking and extremely sad. Barn owl numbers have declined drastically over the past twenty years due to habitat destruction, pollution and intensive agricultural methods. To discover a dead barn owl on the roadside is tragic, especially when one realises that it was more than likely killed by a vehicle. A barn owl perched on a fence or silently gliding across a field whilst hunting is now such a rare sight in our countryside.
The barn owl flying at dusk looks pure white, yet seeing it closely reveals that it is a mixture of various shades of pale gold, with brown, grey and black speckles. Barn owls are medium sized owls with a wing span of (90cm) 35 inches. The average weight of the male is (300g) 11 ounces.
The barn owl is most often seen in flight, hunting over open permanent pasture that has a good population of small mammals such as voles, mice and shrews. These regular patrols may be puncuated by short rests on a fence post from which prey can sometimes be caught. Particularly well developed senses of sight and smell, and the rounded wings with their soft, fluffy feathers, make them efficient and silent hunters. The eyes are set in a white heart-shaped facial disk edged with brown. The eyes are almost immobile, but this is compensated for by the ability of the bird to twist its head around a full 270 degrees. Catching prey unawares, they grasp it with their claws and if it is small enough, swallow it whole.
Year after year barn owls will return to established roosts and breeding sites in old barns, trees, cliffs and in the attics of old buildings. Often these sites are revealed by large accumulations of pellets. Pellets consist of undigested particles that are regurgitated and make it possible to determine on what the owls were feeding. The breeding season starts in February or March and the size of each clutch of white eggs varies from three to eleven, depending on the availability of food. The barn owls calls include a variety of hoarse shrieks that have given them, over the centuries, the reputation as a bird of ill omen. Like the adult birds, the young make a variety of noises including hissing and snoring and if disturbed in the nest, they will snap their bills together loudly.