March Membership Meeting-A Morphological Assessment of the Common Barn Owl (Tyto alba): One Species or Three?

Thursday, March 21, 2024 7:00 p.m. Whitman College, Olin Hall, Room 129 

Presented by Rachel Daugherty

Barn Owls have a worldwide distribution and are highly variable in geographic morphology, complicating the process of delineating their taxonomy. Multiple genomic studies have demonstrated that the Barn Owl complex has at least three genetically separate evolutionary units: the Western (or Afro-European) Barn Owl, Tyto alba, occurring from southern Scandinavia to South Africa; the American Barn Owl, Tyto furcata, from southern Canada to Patagonia; and the Eastern (or Australasian) Barn Owl, Tyto javanica, from the Himalayan plateau to Tasmania. Despite this genomic evidence, many ornithological organizations continue to identify all Barn Owls as Common Barn Owls (Tyto alba), with numerous subspecies, due to the absence of supportive non-genomic evidence (e.g., morphometrics, vocalizations).

This presentation will describe the research conducted by Rachel Daugherty and her colleagues who performed a comprehensive morphological analysis of the three Barn Owl species units. Up to 21 different morphometrics were measured on 192 live and 1,271 museum Barn Owl specimens. The results of her research clearly demonstrated a difference in the morphologies of the three evolutionary species units of Barn Owls and supports the genetic evidence to subdivide the “Common Barn Owl” into three separate species units.

Rachel Daugherty recently completed her master’s from Walla Walla University’s Graduate Biology Program, where she conducted her thesis on Barn Owls. She hopes to continue working in the field of biology, but ultimately aims to work in education, where she can instill a passion for biology in students. Currently, Rachel works at the Appaloosa Horse Club in Moscow, ID where she is a youth coordinator, journal editor, and registration specialist.

Zoom link:

Rachel Daugherty and Barn Owl

Barn Owl, courtesy of Rachel Daugherty

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