The barn owls are a distinctive-looking group, with a characteristic facial disk of stiff, white feathers, dark eyes, long legs, and other features that distinguish them from typical owls. All barn owls are nocturnal predators, mostly of small mammals. There are nine species of barn owls (genus Tyto) and two species of closely related grass owls (genus Phodilus).
The most familiar species is the barn owl (Tyto alba). The barn owl is one of the most widely distributed species of bird, occurring on all continents but Antarctica, and with about 30 races described, many of which are endemic to particular oceanic islands. The barn owl is the only representative of this family in the Americas, occurring uncommonly through most of the United States and in much of Central and South America. The barn owl roosts in cavities in trees and in barns and abandoned buildings, and it hunts at dusk and at night over marshes, prairies, fields, and farmyards.
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