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Class Aves
Order Strigiformes


Tytonidae—Barn Owl // Strigidae—Typical Owls

Order Strigiformes—Owls

Most owls are nocturnal predators. There is a vast variety of taxa, and most regions support a number of species differing in size or habits. From the point of view of the paleontologist, owls are best friends because owls normally regurgitate the hair or feathers and bones of their prey. The bones normally have little damage from being subjected to digestive juices, and often anterior skulls, dentition, and lower jaws survive nicely. The result, coupled with the common use of caves as roosts, is that owls are a major source of cave microfossils. (Open sites also may owe their small faunal elements to owls roosting in trees above drainageways.) Both prey preferences and the sizes of the various species of owls tend to bias the deposited assemblage, however. As with other predators, especially birds, several habitats may be represented in the deposited fauna as the hunters range up to several miles from the roost.

Owls are successful as nocturnal predators in part because of eyes adapted to low levels of light, excellent hearing that is able to pinpoint vertical and horizontal distance of prey by the slight sounds of prey foraging, and feathers adapted to silent flight.


Tyto alba—Common Barn-owlPleistocene regional distribution of Tyto alba

Tyto alba, photo by C. F. Zeillemaker, USFWSThe Common Barn-owl occurs pretty much throughout our region, though apparently in relatively low density. Its diet consists largely of mouse and rat-sized rodents along with arthropods (Ligon 1961).

Fig. 1. Common Barn-owl. Photograph by C. F. Zeillemaker, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Tyto alba tarsometatarsus,UTEP 31-14

Fig. 2. Fossil right tarsometatarsus of Tyto alba from the Human Corridor site, Dry Cave (UTEP 31-14). Posterior (top) and anterior views. Metric scale.

Tyto alba proximal and distal ends of left tarsometatarsus,UTEP 31-14

Fig. 3. Proximal and distal end views of Common Barn-owl tarsometatarsus, UTEP 31-14.


?Late Irvingtonian/Rancholabrean: Emery Borrow Pit (Jefferson 1991a).

Rancholabrean: National City West (Jefferson 2014).

Wisconsin: Carpinteria (Guthrie 2009).

Mid Wisconsin: McKittrick (Jefferson 1991a); Pendejo Cave (UTEP).

Mid/Late Wisconsin: Dark Canyon Cave (Howard 1971); Rampart Cave (Miller 1960); Rancho La Brea (Stock and Harris 1992); San Miguel Island (Guthrie 1998).

Mid Wisconsin-Holocene: Shelter Cave (Howard and Miller 1933).

Late Wisconsin: Human Corridor (Harris 1993c); Maricopa (Jefferson 1991a).

Late Wisconsin/Holocene: Conkling Cavern (Conkling 1932); Howell's Ridge Cave (Howard 1962).

Literature. Conkling 1932; Guthrie 1998, 2009; Harris 1993c; Howard 1962, 1971; Howard and Miller 1933; Jefferson 1991a; Ligon 1961; Miller 1960; Stock and Harris 1992.


Last Update: 15 Feb 2016