Barn Owl - Field Marks

The spooky hiss and shriek of the Barn Owl is appropriate for haunted houses and Halloween. Also listen for the Great Horned Owl and Eastern Screech-Owl while out trick-or-treating.

Barn Owl
Tyto alba

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 rodents. 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.

Field Marks
A long-legged, knock-kneed, pale, monkey-faced owl. White heart-shaped face and dark eyes; no ear tufts. Distinguished in flight as an owl by the large head and light mothlike flight; as this species, by the unstreaked whitish or pale cinnamon underparts (ghostly at night) and the golden-buff or rusty back.

14-20" (35-50 cm)

Similar Species
Short-eared Owl (marshes) is streaked, has darker face and underparts, yellow eyes, shorter legs.

A shrill, rasping hiss or snore: kschh or shiiish.

Nearly worldwide in tropical and temperate regions; in New World from southern Canada to Tierra del Fuego.

Barn Owl - Range Map

Some remain all winter near northern edges of range, but some (perhaps especially young birds) move long distances southward in fall. A regular October migrant at Cape May, New Jersey.

Woodlands, groves, farms, barns, towns, cliffs. Typically in open or semi-open country in lowlands. May nest in forest or city if nearby area has good open foraging territory, such as farmland, marsh, prairie, desert. Roosts in sheltered sites such as buildings, caves, hollow trees.

Diet: Mostly rodents. Feeds heavily on voles; also takes various kinds of mice, small rats, shrews, young rabbits, other mammals. Eats very small numbers of birds, lizards, insects, rarely frogs or even fish.

Behavior: Hunts at night, seldom by day. Seeks prey mostly by flying low over open ground, watching and listening; sometimes hunts by flying down from a perch. Has excellent vision in low light levels, and hearing is so precise that it can strike prey in total darkness.

In courtship, male performs display flight, including loud wing-claps; male feeds female.

Nest: Uses sites in caves and hollow trees, also many artificial sites such as barn lofts, church steeples, abandoned houses, dry wells, duck blinds, crevices under bridges, nest boxes. Where no existing cavities are available, will dig holes in dirt banks. No real nest built, but will arrange debris into crude depression.

Eggs: Usually 3-8, sometimes 2-12 or even more. Whitish, sometimes becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by female only, 29-34 days; male brings food to female during incubation.

Young: Female remains with young at first and broods them while they are small; male brings food, female feeds it to young. After about 2 weeks, female hunts also. Age of young at first flight roughly 55-65 days. Young return to sleep at nest or nearby for several more weeks. 1-2 broods per year, sometimes 3.

In recent decades, has declined slightly in some regions, drastically in others. Stable or increasing in a few sites. May be helped in some areas by provision of nest boxes.

Back to Top