Common Barn-owl in Sri Lanka

The buoyant, slow, wavering flight of the Common Barn-owl (Tyto alba) with its legs dangling makes the owl appear ghost-like. Sometimes it can be seen as a fast, dark shadow in the evening sky. The nocturnal birds are a special challenge for bird photographers. They can only be photographed with a lot of knowledge of the right location, some time and normally a considerable use of technology. This individual to photograph on a perch just after sunset near a lake (they call it tank) in Tissamaharama, southern Sri Lanka, was only possible due to the intense knowledge of the local guide.

The Common Barn-owl owes its name to the pronounced heart-shaped face veil. The shape and bright color of the veil make it easy to distinguish it from other owls. The owl’s silent flight is famous. Because the body plumage is very soft and the outer wing feathers are serrated the barn owl can glide silently through the night. In contrast to one or the other domestic owl species, the barn owl is only nocturnal. In Sri Lanka you find the Indian Barn-owl (T. a. stertens). This race is distributed over the Indian Subcontinent south to Sri Lanka, and east to south-western China (Yunnan), Vietnam and south Thailand. After sunset the Barn-owl hunts close to ground in searching flight over rice paddies with an undulating and hovering flight. When the Barn-owl detects a prey it is diving on the prey with talons extended. Depending on the habitat type, e.g. in denser vegetation perch-hunting is observed in Sri Lanka as well.

The subspecies stertens is remarkably similar to the nominate race which is golden-buff above, with variable light greyish “veil”, and finely streaked, mottled and dotted dark, white facial disc and underparts, sometimes with pale buff on sides of chest and a fine spotting on breast and flanks. Tyto alba stertens in contrast to the subspecies alba, the Western Barn-owl, is more pale and greyish above although the bird looks a bit darker in comparison to the nominate race in the image of the blog. The small spots on pale underparts are almost like the ones of the Western Barn-owl.

Color variation in general is very interesting. The well-known breast color variation of the Common Barn-owl in Europe, a cline ranging from purely white in the west (nominate race) to rufous buff in the center and east (guttata) has been classically attributed to the existence of two refugia during the last glaciations where the color morphs evolved in allopatry, the cline evolving by secondary contact after the ice age. A genetic study has now shown that Europe was indeed colonized from a single Iberian refugium, while the color cline must be due to natural selection.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the species of the Palearctic, Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds not only in the western Palearctic. Trips around the home range or to remote places to capture images were very successful. The nice image of the blog is only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give a message, if could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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