Phylogenetic evidence shows that there are at least three major lineages of barn owl, one in Europe, western Asia and Africa, one in southeastern Asia and Australasia, and one in the Americas, and some highly divergent taxa on islands. Accordingly, some authorities split the group into the western barn owl for the group in Europe, western Asia and Africa, the eastern barn owl for the group in southeastern Asia and Australasia, and the American barn owl for the group in the Americas. Some taxonomic authorities further split the group, recognising up to five species, and further research needs to be done to clarify the position. There is a considerable variation between the sizes and colour of the approximately 28 subspecies, but most are between 33 and 39 cm (13 and 15 in) in length, with wingspans ranging from 80 to 95 cm (31 to 37 in). The plumage on head and back is a mottled shade of grey or brown, the underparts vary from white to brown and are sometimes speckled with dark markings. The face is characteristically heart-shaped and is white in most subspecies. This owl does not hoot, but utters an eerie, drawn-out screech.

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