Jochen Weber - Photography |  Foto Documentaries


The Indian Barn Owl
- Scientific name: Tyto Alba Stertens -

Observations on a Barn Owl family in South Mumbai

Tip: All small images in this documentary can be enlarged and viewed in a new window by clicking on them.

This abandoned and dilapidated building in South Mumbai is the observation site.

One or perhaps several barn owl families are nesting in the centre of the building’s gabled rooftop.


[Firstly, some information on the equipment and light sources used during the photography. I have used two Nikon cameras; the D3S, especially for high ISO photos, and the D7100. As lens I used the Nikkor 70-200 mm, 2.8 VRII, as well as, in part, the Tele-Converter TC-20E II. Daylight has been a good source of light for the photos of the roosting spot. The moon, the illuminated apartments in the building across and a small flashlight have served as a good source for night photography. The ISO settings have been between 12.800 and HQ.7; for the noise reduction, I have used DxO in Prime mode (really amazing). I have also used a stronger flashlight with ISO setting 6.400. After discussions with a biologist friend, some of the photographs have been taken with an external wireless fill-in-flash (SB 800) and a mounted softbox,  the ISO setting here was between 1.000 and 1.250; the distance was about 25 metres.]

The sun has set, the building is faintly illuminated from the light of the apartments across… [ISO 16.126]

Their favourite nightly spot is in the windows or on a ledge

From there, they have the best view of the surroundings

Audio Clip “Call of the Owl” (Duration: About 1 minute. The link opens in a new window)

During the day they prefer to roost under the gabled rooftop

       The perfect roosting spot for the day: somewhat hidden, protected, ...

...and allows them to nestle together.                       

The owls start their activities at dusk, around 7 pm, by stretching themselves and shaking their plumage. They preen themselves with the help of their beak and middle claw, known as the "grooming claw", specially designed for this purpose (see picture below). The process of "autogrooming" (actions involved in body care and hygiene) includes greasing the plume through the secretions from the preen gland situated on the beak. However, they groom each other through a process called "pair preening" during the mating season. The corresponding foto on the left highlights how the barn owls caress each other with their beaks (head, facial disc and neck area).

"Grooming Claw"


                            "Pair Preening" at the roosting spot …

… little bit of stretching, fluffing …                                   

                                        …and ruffling the feathers … 


 ... und los geht's in die Nacht!                                    


Fully-grown owls are predominantly loners by nature and are seldom seen around or with fellow owls, except during mating or breeding season. They are not too territorial. It is thus possible that one may see other owls and breeding pairs that tend to live in relative proximity. At the time of mating, however, they become defensive of their territory. The male chases away intruders and may in fact attack them. But their behavior towards the enemy is mainly intended to keep the enemy at bay – very smart!

They observe everything intently; no movement or sound escapes them

Threatening posture with outstretched wings

Their naturally erect posture enables them to remain well-hidden and camouflaged while perched on their shelters. When disturbed, they tend to squeeze closer to their perch and remain still. In extreme cases, they flee or spray their liquid excreta on their enemy. The owlets and the besieged adult owls that are unable to fly, threaten their enemies with outstretched wings and a threatening body posture. At the same time, they screech loudly and pretend to launch an attack.

Territorial and …

… courtship calls

The 3-12 eggs laid in 2 days take 30 days to incubate. It is the responsibility of the female to incubate the eggs and nurture them. The male is the provider till the owlets are about 3 weeks old. In about two months the owlets are ready to fly irrespective of their size. They shed their soft, downy feathers and directly develop the plumage of an adult owl. They begin practicing their hunting tactics once they are 31 days old. Provided the nesting ground is large enough, they start moving around within an area of about 2 meters, where they take their baby steps to learn hunting. This typically takes place in the morning and evening. From the 44th day, they attempt to take 2 meter long leaps. Unfortunately, I could not capture these moments with my camera.


© Text and Photos: Jochen Weber

Page 1  |  2  [Home]