It isn't easy being green, or white in this case... Or is it? Scientists have struggled for years to understand the snowy plumage of Barn Owls they would see in the wild, compared to others that were various shades of red. Even more interesting, though they are nocturnal hunters, there are many more white-colored barn owls than red, pointing to an advantage of some sort. But how could a bright white creature on the backdrop of night have a natural advantage, it just seemed completely backwards. Recent research finally answered the question ornithologists (bird nerds) have been chomping at the bit to answer.
Ghosts At Night
For years, scientists have been puzzled by some Barn Owls having white coloring, a disadvantageous color for a hunter in the black of night, or so scientists thought. Their plumage stands out at night even more so under the light of the moon, so researchers up until now couldn't figure out why this seemingly negative trait has not been bred out of the species.
A Startling Discovery
But what researchers found stunned them. The exact opposite was the case. white Barn Owls hunt best when there is a full moon out. This is because their coloration causes a very unique effect under the light of the moon, similar to a deer in headlights.
Deer in the Headlights
Prey freeze when illuminated by the birds white plumage under the moonlight, similar to a deer in the headlights. This makes catching the prey much easier, with much less effort required, since the prey is more or less 'stunned' in these instances.
Red vs. White
Researchers found that common prey for these owls, voles, would remain petrified for up to 5 seconds longer for white barn owls, than for red-colored ones. But this was only on a night with high levels of moonlight. During a new moon, the difference between them disappeared.
Scientists previously compared how barn owls flew to other birds, and also found some fascinating results.
Unlike birds like pigeons, or even predators like falcons, who generate a great deal of force and disturb the air significantly as they pass, barn owls are nearly silent in flight. Professional microphones didn't even catch a whisper as the owls flew past.
When testing how much force and disturbance they create, the feathers didn't move, pointing to another significant ability that makes barn owls incredible hunters.