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Barn Owl

Although their name hints at barns, they are typically found in open habitats such as grasslands, agricultural fields, marshes, deserts, and forested areas with open understories.

The Barn Owl is a big, pale owl with a round head, white, heart-shaped face and golden brown, gray, and white plumage.

Barn Owls are uncommon in most areas and rare in the northern part of its range. Watch for Barn Owls at night in meadows and other open, grassy habitats in places with mild winters.

In spring and summer, you might hear the shrieks of young Barn Owls emanating from old barns, church steeples, nest boxes, and other nest sites.




The male Barn Owl has pale golden-brown upperparts with soft gray tones, and bits of small, black and white speckling. It has a big, round head with dark eyes on a white, heart-shaped face.

Barn Owl

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

Its face has a narrow tan outline, and most of its underparts are snowy white. However, it usually has some buff and faint speckling on its chest.

The underside of his long, broad wings is white, and he also has long legs and gray feet with long, sharp talons.

The male Barn Owl is 13-14 inches long and has a 33-inch wingspan. Males weigh around one pound.



The female Barn Owl is similar to her male counterpart but is noticeably larger and has darker plumage.

Like the male, she is also a big, ghostly pale owl with a round head, and a white, heart-shaped face. She also has tawny-brown and pale gray upperparts with bits of small black and white spots but is a bit darker than the male, especially on her wings.

Barn Owl

The female Barn Owl’s underparts are also darker. She has more golden-brown coloration and speckling on her chest and belly.

Female Barn Owls are 16 inches long, have a three-foot wingspan, and can weigh 1.24 pounds.



The Barn Owl mostly feeds at night on rodents and other small mammals, especially voles. This bird does very well in areas with lots of rats, mice, and other small rodents and can eat 12 rodents in just one night!

It also feeds on bats, and occasionally catches and eats small birds, lizards, insects, and amphibians. Once in a while, Barn Owls also feed on carrion.

This species forages by slowly flapping and gliding over open areas, often fairly close to the ground. As it flies around, it watches for prey and also uses its amazing hearing abilities to listen for potential food.

Barn Owl

When it detects prey, it quickly dives into the grass or snow to snatch the animal with its long talons. After successfully catching a small animal, the Barn Owl kills it by biting it in the back of the head.

In places with tall or dense vegetation, Barn Owls also hunt from perches. After seeing or hearing prey, they fly out to quickly dive down and catch the animal.

The Barn Owl catches birds and other small animals in a similar fashion. It has been documented feeding on many bird species but usually catches birds that roost in the open.


Nesting and Eggs

Barn Owls nest in a wide variety of crevices, tree cavities, and other similar situations. They can nest in church steeples, inside barns, under bridges, and in many other structures. This owl also uses holes in trees, cliffs, and haystacks, and can dig its own nesting hole in soft, dry river banks.

These adaptable birds have also been recorded nesting in everything from wells to cisterns, and even the backs of drive-in movie screens.

Nesting can take place any time of the year but usually coincides with the greatest amount of prey abundance. For this reason, in North America, Barn Owls usually nest in spring and early summer.

The number of eggs laid also depends on how much food is available. There can be anywhere from three to four or even 10 eggs in a nest!

The female lays dull white eggs on a mat of her own, regurgitated, shredded pellets (bits of bone, hair, and other undigested bits of prey). They are 1.31 inches long and only weigh .03 ounces.

Female Barn Owls incubate for 31 days and the male feeds her during this time. After hatching, the young start flying at 8 weeks of age but are still fed by their parents for three to five more weeks.



Contrary to some other owl species, Barn Owls are known for their screaming calls. Their common call consists of a rasping shriek, but they make screeching and hissing sounds as well.


Current Situation

Barn Owls have a huge range. They live in tropical areas and just about any place that has mild winters.

In North America, they occur in parts of southern Canada, and many parts of the USA. They tend to be absent or very rare in the northern USA and other regions with cold winters.

Barn Owl


Barn Owls can occur in farming areas, urban zones, and a variety of open habitats.

They are listed as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List but are rare in some places.

Although the Barn Owl is common in many parts of its range, they can be affected by certain types of rat poison. Barn Owls are also susceptible to being hit by cars as they glide low over the ground.

Habitat destruction is affecting Barn Owls too, especially intensive farming practices that reduce nest sites and prey.



  • Barn Owls can detect prey by sound better than any animal that has been put through similar hearing tests. This owl’s hearing is so good, it can even tell a vole from a rat by the sounds that the animal makes.
  • The Barn Owl never hoots. Instead, it makes loud shrieking sounds. These harsh calls might be used to scare rodents into moving and revealing themselves.
  • This species does indeed live in barns. Old barns are ideal nesting sites, especially when they are near farm fields and other sites with plenty of small animals to feed on.
  • Before its eggs hatch, the Barn Owl stores small dead animals near the nest. These food items are eventually used to feed nestlings.
  • This owl species has incredibly quiet wings. In fact, some studies have shown that they are virtually silent. Those quiet wings help the Barn Owl sneak up on small animals that have excellent hearing.


Similar Species

In the USA and Canada, few other birds resemble the Barn Owl. However, given poor looks, it could potentially be confused with two other owl species.


Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

This large and bulky owl is pale and frequents open habitats.

However, it is a bigger and heftier bird.

Snowy Owls are white with some black markings and lack a heart-shaped face.


Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Like the Barn Owl, this owl species also glides low over open fields and can have some pale plumage characteristics.

However, it is darker brown above and has some streaking on its pale underparts.

The Short-eared Owl also has buffy patches near its wing tips, pale eyes, and short ear tufts.



Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it called Barn Owl?

This bird is called, “Barn Owl” because it frequently nests inside barns. Although it can nest in any number of structures, British people named it after the place where they typically encountered it; inside barns.

Is it rare to see a Barn Owl?

It is not rare to see a Barn Owl in places where they live. However, as with most nocturnal owls, you need to spend time at night looking for them.

Are Barn Owls good to have around?

Yes, Barn Owls are very good to have around. These raptors act as natural pest control by eating large numbers of rodents all year long.

What do Barn Owls do when scared?

When scared, Barn Owls make hissing noises and clack their beaks.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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