La Jolla Rec Center tree becomes home for trio of barn owls

Three tiny barn owls were spotted in a tree on the La Jolla Recreation Center grounds.
Three tiny barn owls were spotted in a tree on the La Jolla Recreation Center grounds.
(Tami Louise Assaf)

The La Jolla Recreation Center may be closed due to coronavirus-related restrictions, but a new family of residents is keeping a watchful eye on the place at night.

The evening of Aug. 17, Tami Louise Assaf snapped a photo of three young owls — believed to be barn owls — peering out from a palm tree that fronts the Rec Center at 615 Prospect St. in The Village.

“They make a loud, bizarre noise — not at all like a hoot!” she said. “They are so cute.”

Rec Center staff wasn’t aware of the owls’ presence in the tree before Assaf took her picture. City of San Diego spokesman Tim Graham said staff would determine whether “this requires us to take any particular action as a result.”

He called the photo “awesome.”

San Diego Audubon Society volunteer Wayne Harmon said it’s common for barn owls to nest in trees in urban areas, especially palm trees, and that their presence doesn’t call for any special care.

“When the babies get bigger, they will screech and make a lot of noise,” Harmon said. “There are probably mice and other rodents in that area that the owls are eating. You are lucky to have barn owls to help control the mouse, gopher and rat population.”

An up-close look at a barn owl. (This is not one of the owls in the La Jolla Rec Center tree.)

The barn owl is the most widespread species of owl and one of the most widespread of all species of birds.

The National Audubon Society says that “with its ghostly appearance, rasping shrieks and habit of roosting in such places as church belfries, this bird has attracted much superstition. However, it is really a good omen for farmers who find it in their barns, for it preys chiefly on mice and rats. Discovered in its daytime retreat, the barn owl bobs its head and weaves back and forth, peering at the intruder. At night it is often heard calling as it flies high over farmland or marshes.”

Barn owls are described as pale overall with dark eyes and a mix of buff and gray on the head, back and upper wings. They are white on the face, body and under wings. At night they can appear to be all white. ◆