Tytonidae – Barn & Grass Owls

Barn Owl Tyto alba ©Jeff Harrison Website

Owls, my favourite birds
by Friedhelm Weick

Owls are outstanding birds! Is it their silent hunting in the poor evening light and at night, their distinctive appearance – huge head and forward looking eyes or maybe the echoes of ancient myths and tales of woodland goblins and bewitched owl-shaped princesses? However, since my childhood owls were my favourite birds. They even outranked my ambition for the diurnal birds of prey. As a wildlife artist, birder and ornithologists – I never lost my contact to these feather-armoured knights of the twilight. When in 1980 my book Birds of Prey of the World (Parey, Berlin) was printed, I had the idea for a similar project on the strigiformes of the world. So I began to collect every bit of information about this subject – and, remember: the Internet wasn’t in reach for the common wildlife artist then.

I filed scientific articles, photos and colour-copies of books, sketches and other descriptions back to 1758, photos from living owls in the wildlife or captivity. Detailed lists of measures and colours of skins, weights and feathers grew larger and larger. Beside that I visited zoological gardens, ornithological institutes and a lot of private owl-keepers, birders and ornithologists. In the early nineties I wrote three different annotated checklists about Strigiformes. The first included all recent complete taxa and their distribution. A second listed all-important measurements and weights linked to an index of photos and paintings. The third list was a full description of plumages and soft parts combined with a detailed bibliography.

In this situation Claus König head of the Natural Science Museum at Stuttgart and ambitioned ornithologist asked me if I would be interested in a project which should result in nothing minor than the standard guide to all owls of the world. The publisher would be Pica Press, Sussex. Of course I was, wasn’t I?

The three checklists were the basic-stock for our further work. In the following years I examined some thousands of skins and mounted owls in all-important museums of the world, only supported by my dear wife Christel. Within nearly three years I painted all different taxa and morphes that were sometimes known only by one skin…

In 1999 the book was published… leaving me more time for birding and outdoor projects and, last but not least for new paintings of my favourite birds, guess which?

Species List

According to the IOC there are 19 members of this family; they are:

Greater Sooty Owl Tyto tenebricosa
Lesser Sooty Owl Tyto multipunctata
Minahassa Masked Owl Tyto inexspectata
Taliabu Masked Owl Tyto nigrobrunnea
Moluccan Masked Owl Tyto sororcula
Manus Masked Owl Tyto manusi
Golden Masked Owl Tyto aurantia
Australian Masked Owl Tyto novaehollandiae
Sulawesi Masked Owl Tyto rosenbergii
Red Owl Tyto soumagnei
Western Barn Owl Tyto alba
Eastern Barn Owl Tyto javanica
Andaman Masked Owl Tyto deroepstorffi
Ashy-faced Owl Tyto glaucops
African Grass Owl Tyto capensis
Eastern Grass Owl Tyto longimembris

Congo Bay Owl Phodilus prigoginei
Oriental Bay Owl Phodilus badius
Sri Lanka Bay Owl Phodilus assimilis

Species Links
  • Australian Masked Owl Tyto novaehollandiae

    Species Account
    The Masked Owl has three basic plumage forms: pale, intermediate and dark. The plumage pattern remains similar in each case. The facial disc is chestnut to white, edged with a darker ring and darker around the bill and below the eyes.
  • Australian Masked Owl Tyto novaehollandiae

    IUCN Species Status
  • Australian Masked Owl Tyto novaehollandiae

    Species Account
    The Masked Owl is the largest and most powerful representative of the genus Tyto in Australia and the female of the Tasmanian race is the largest in the world. The dark Tasmanian birds are still reasonably common, but their mainland relatives have declined alarmingly. They are also known as Cave Owls, or Tasmanian Masked Owls…
  • Australian Masked Owl Tyto novaehollandiae

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Australian Masked Owl Tyto novaehollandiae

    Species Account
    The Australian masked owl (Tyto novaehollandiae) is a barn owl of Southern New Guinea and the non-desert areas of Australia.
  • Congo Bay Owl Phodilus prigoginei

    IUCN Species Status
  • Congo Bay Owl Phodilus prigoginei

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Congo Bay Owl Phodilus prigoginei

    Species Account
    The Congo bay owl, also known as the Itombwe owl or African bay owl, (Pholidus prigoginei) (sometimes placed in the genus Tyto with the barn and grass owls) is a species of owl in the family Tytonidae. It is restricted to a small area in the Albertine Rift in east central Africa.
  • Western Barn Owl Tyto alba

    IUCN Species Status
  • Western Barn Owl Tyto alba

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Western Barn Owl Tyto alba

    Species Account
    The barn owl (Tyto alba) is the most widely distributed species of owl and one of the most widespread of all birds. It is also referred to as the common barn owl, to distinguish it from other species in its family, Tytonidae, which forms one of the two main lineages of living owls, the other being the typical owls (Strigidae). The barn owl is found almost everywhere in the world except polar and desert regions, Asia north of the Himalayas, most of Indonesia, and some Pacific islands.
  • Western Barn Owl Tyto alba

    Cornell Species Account
    Ghostly pale and strictly nocturnal, Barn Owls are silent predators of the night world. Lanky, with a whitish face, chest, and belly, and buffy upperparts, this owl roosts in hidden, quiet places during the day.
  • Friedhelm Weick

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 19

Useful Reading
  • Barn Owls - Evolution and Ecology – with Grass Owls, Masked Owls and Sooty Owls

    | By Alexandre Roulin | Cambridge University Press | 2020 | Hardback | 300 pages, 50 colour illustrations | ISBN: 9781107165755 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Barn Owls - Predator - Prey Relations and Conservation

    | By Iain Taylor | Cambridge University Press | 2004 | Paperback | 304 pages, 48 b/w photos, 93 line diagrams, 7 tables | ISBN: 9780521545877 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Owls

    | By Chris Mead, Mike Toms & Guy Troughton | Whittet Books | 2011 | 2nd Edition | Hardback | 152 pages, 9 colour photos, b/w illustrations | ISBN: 9781873580837 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Owls

    | By Valerie Bodden | Franklin Watts (UK) | 2015 | Paperback | 24 pages, colour illustrations | ISBN: 9781445138497 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Owls - A Guide to Every Species

    | By Marianne Taylor | The Ivy Press | 2017 | Hardback | 256 pages, colour photos, colour & b/w illustrations, colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9781782404040 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Owls In The Wild - A Visual Essay

    | By Rob Palmer | Amherst Media | 2018 | Paperback | 128 pages, colour photos | ISBN: 9781682033340 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Owls of the World

    | By James Duncan | New Holland Publishers | 2018 | Paperback | 192 pages, 120 colour photos | ISBN: 9781925546316 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Owls of the World - A Photographic Guide

    | By Heimo Mikkola | Christopher Helm | 2013 | Hardback | 528 pages, colour photos, colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9781472905932 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Barn Owl

    | By Derek S Bunn, AB Warburton, RD Wilson & Ian Willis | T & AD Poyser Ltd (A & C Black) | 2010 | Hardback | 280 pages, Colour photos, drawings | ISBN: 9781408139585 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Barn Owl - Guardian of the Countryside

    | By Jeff R Martin | Whittet Books | 2017 | Hardback | 249 pages, colour & b/w photos, colour & b/w illustrations, colour maps, tables | ISBN: 9781873580899 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Hidden Lives of Owls - The Science and Spirit of Nature's Most Elusive Birds

    | By Leigh Calvez | Sasquatch Books | 2016 | Paperback | 206 pages, 9 b/w illustrations | ISBN: 9781632170255 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Owl Book

    | By Jane Russ | Graffeg | 2018 | Hardback | 160 pages, 100 colour photos and colour illustrations | ISBN: 9781912050420 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Barn Owl Trust

    The Barn Owl Trust is a registered charity dedicated to conserving the Barn Owl and its environment and is the main source of Barn Owl information in the UK. The Trust's educational work began in 1989 and we now also run training courses for ecological consultants and planning officers. We carry out surveys of old buildings due for development, and advise on Barn Owl mitigation measures. Our booklet 'Barn Owls on Site, a guide for developers and planners', published by English Nature is widely used by local authorities and other official bodies
  • Barn Owl Centre

    The Barn Owl Centre
Other Links
  • CD - All Europe's Owls

    Text in Swedish and English. 77 voices of all 13 European owl species, between 2 and 9 different voices per species. Not only territorials calls of males but even contacting calls, voices of females and owlets. CD, about 68 min…
  • Competencies for Species Survey: Barn Owl

    PDF Article
    The purpose of this document is to set out the knowledge, skills and experience required to survey, disturb or to carry out research works (hereinafter referred to generically as ‘survey’) for the barn owl Tyto alba in a professional capacity

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