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Tytonidae - Strigiformes

Kingdom: Animalia     Phylum: Chordata     Class: Aves (Birds)     Order: Strigiformes         Family: Tytonidae

The oldest fossil from Tytonidae dates back to Paleocene era and the genus Tyto to the mid Miocene. Tytonidae family of owls includes two genera, (Phodilus and Tyto) and 16 species. These owls are found mainly in tropical regions, with several species ranging to higher latitudes. Most species are forest-dwelling, though several species are found in open woodland areas, and the grass-owls live in open grasslands.

Tytonids vary from other Owls in several characteristics. The ear tufts are absent. They have a heart-shaped, almost comical, facial disk surrounded by a ruff of stiff feathers; a comparatively weak and compressed bill. Their have smaller eyes as compared to the Strigidae owls. They have long legs, and their inner toe, which is as long as the middle one, has a pectinate claw. The upper part of the tarsus is covered with feathers, which pass into bristles on lower tarsus. Their sternum has two notches and is fused with the furcula. Females are generally larger than males and have darker spots. Their plumage is soft and dense, generally darker with markings on the upperparts, while the underparts are pale and often without any markings. Tytonids have long and pointed wings, exceeding the tail in length.

Except for the well-studied Barn Owl (Tyto alba), the habits of these crepuscular and nocturnal Owls are little known. Tytonid owls feed on small birds and mammals, especially rodents, mice and bats. The preponderance of rodents and mice in their diet make these owls very beneficial to the farmers. The Tytonidae Owls are capable of adapting to locally available prey, and have been known to prey on reptiles, frogs and insects. They often carry their prey in their bill instead of carrying in in their talons.

Tytonid Owls have low breeding rates. Egg-laying varies with weather and prey cycles. Clutch sizes vary within the family. Many species nest in tree cavities, Barn Owls may take advantage of man-made structures such as barns. The Grass-Owls nest on the ground, burrowing a system of tunnels through long grasses to a nesting site. Females are usually the sole incubators, while the males provide food, though both will care for the young once hatched. When confronted these Owls lean towards the intruder, spreading wings and tail, hissing and snapping. If that does not work they will then proceed to move their head up and down while shaking it, still hissing. The bowing and head shaking aspects of the threat display is unique to this family.

Five species of Tytonidae are considered threatened, one of which is endangered. The following three species are found in India.

Oriental Bay-Owl  (Phodilus badius) - local resident
Barn Owl  (Tyto alba) - widespread resident
Eastern Grass-Owl  (Tyto longimembris) - local resident

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