Our noisy neighbours

A few weeks ago as I returned from a work trip abroad, I was told by my spouse that she’d heard some strange snoring-like sounds next door. The source of this noise turned out to be a family of Barn Owls which must have bred in a nearby building, with at least 3 noisy young constantly begging for food every night, as soon as dusk settles in.

While I often hear Barn Owls flying around the house, and occasionally see them sitting on the roof, I didn’t think they were breeding this close, so it was a real treat to hear – and see – these birds here.

Along with a few other raptors – Osprey and Peregrine Falcon – Barn Owls are one of the most widespread birds species on the planet. They live on all continents¹ (except, for obvious reasons, Antarctica) and have extremely well adapted to human settlements which they ended up depending on in many regions.

Very much an urban species in Africa, at least based on occasional sightings during my travels across the continent, the Barn Owl appears to be relatively common in many of the continent’s capitals. In Dakar and probably in other cities in the region, the abundance of prey (rats and mice, probably also birds and bats) and availability of suitable breeding sites in unfinished or abandoned buildings are likely factors that explain its presence, even in the more upscale neighbourhoods such as Les Almadies. This is in sharp contrast with many regions in Europe (and North America) where the species has suffered important declines, something which was particularly apparent in the Pays de Gex in Eastern France where I used to live prior to moving to Dakar: despite several attempts at locating remaining Barn Owls, no breeding records were obtained in recent years. Barn Owls are still present in reasonable numbers in nearby Geneva, where it is one of the priority species that are monitored by my friends of the GOBG under a conservation programme which also includes the provision of nest boxes and advocacy with farmers and owners of buildings used by breeding owls.

“Our” Barn Owl family has been around since early June and was still around at the end of the month when we left for Europe for a few weeks, so I’m not sure whether they are still there or are now fully independent. There must have been 3 or even 4 young, which can be heard begging here (during the evening’s call to prayer), while a recording from last year of an adult calling while flying around the house is to be heard here.

(no pictures for this post, maybe next time I’ll get to take some pics of the Barn Owl family)


¹ IOC taxonomy now treats the Australian (and New-Guinean) population as a separate species, Eastern Barn Owl Tyto delicatula, though I guess this may be one of the more controversial splits. Indeed, some authors consider the New World Barn Owls and other taxa to be sufficiently distinct to raise these to species level, while most others treat all Barn Owls as a single species. A good summary can be found on Wikipedia.

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