28 Frequently Asked Questions About Barn Owls - Avian Report (2022)

28 Frequently Asked Questions About Barn Owls - Avian Report (1)
Barn Owl looking for small mammals in open habitats.

28 Frequently Asked Questions About Barn Owls

The Barn Owl, whose scientific name is Tyto alba is one of the world’s most popular owls. It occurs in most continents, and although fairly common and adapted to life with humans, it is rarely seen by many due largely to its nocturnal habits. The barn owl is a superb night hunter that uses its specialized sense of hearing and quite buoyant flight to detect prey in many types of open habitats. Owls have been regarded with fascination, awe, and fear throughout history. They are often regarded as a sign of a bad omen, although attitudes towards owls are changing as we know more about their fascinating life.

The following are the most common questions about barn owls.

1. Where do Barn Owls live, or what is the barn owl habitat?

Barn Owls live (occur) everywhere. They are widespread but prefer grasslands, ranchland, brushy fields, open scrub, marshes, agricultural fields, and mixed grasslands woodlots. They do not normally enter woodlands.

2. Do Barn owls hunt in pairs?

No, Barn Owls hunt alone and do not defend their hunting grounds. There may be more than one Barn Owl foraging at the same area and time without being associated with one another.

3. How do Barn Owls catch their prey?

Barn Owls find their prey by flying slowly in a buoyant manner over open fields listening for small rodents.

They use their impressive hearing, aided by their satellite-dish-shaped faces, to locate mice in the grass, at dusk, and in complete darkness.

28 Frequently Asked Questions About Barn Owls - Avian Report (2)
Barn Owls feed on small mammals and are effective in controlling the population size of mice and rats.

4. Are Owls (Barn Owl) signs of death or a bad omen?

Not in the least. Owls are nocturnal raptors hence they are active at night when humans feel vulnerable.

The reputation of bad omen has been ingrained through storytelling and religion and, unfortunately continues to influence people’s attitudes towards owls.

(Video) How Barn Owls Care for Their Eggs | The Facts | LIVE Q&A

Hawks and eagles are diurnal raptors. They do the same things as owls do but during the day. We can see them, therefore, we do not attribute a similar symbolism to hawks and eagles as we do to owls. Seeing an owl should be a sign of good luck!

5. What Do Barn owls Eat?

Barn Owls eat mostly small nocturnal mammals such as voles, rats, mice, lemmings, shrews, and small rabbits. Small birds and bats are rare in a Barn Owl’s diet.

6. How fast can a barn owl fly?

Barn owls fly buoyantly and slowly while foraging for prey at speeds of approximately 10-20 miles per hour. If flying in a straight line from point A to B, they fly faster, but there is no data on Barn Owl’s flying speed.

28 Frequently Asked Questions About Barn Owls - Avian Report (3)
Barn Owls and other owls, in general, have been subjected to prosecution due to their appearance, nocturnal habits, and their vocalizations at night.

7. What do owls (Barn owl) symbolize?

Owls have been regarded with fascination, awe, and fear throughout history.Owls’ presence and hoots mean something to different cultures.

Ancient Christians regarded owls as a symbol of the evil of the night. Unfortunately, that belief was ingrained and Christianity became the prevailing religion.

The Chinesesaw owls as an announcement that someone was going to die. The ancient Greeks regarded owls as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge.

Some native cultures in North, Central, and South America associate owls with evil spirits, while others, with fertility or being companions of the night. Today, we know more about owls and associate them with beauty and an air of mystery.

8. Why do barn owls scream, and what other Calls do they make?

Owls communicate by giving a loud hissing shriek. Females make a similar but softer shriek. While in the nest, adults and chicks make a variety of hissing noises.

Calls of a Barn Owl.

(Video) 'Moor Meadows for Barn Owls' by David Ramsden (Barn Owl Trust)

9. Are barn owls dangerous?

Not at all. Barn Owls are rather shy and will fly away upon being approached by humans, even abandoning their eggs and chicks.

When a Barn owl looks straight at one, its pale and oval face and piercing dark eyes may give the impression that the bird is facing one-off but that is just an owl face.

10. Can a barn owl kill a cat?

Barn Owls weigh only a pound, and have claws adapted to grasp mice and other small rodents. They are incapable of killing or lifting a cat.

11. What type of special adaptations do Barn Owls have?

Barn Owls have very acute hearing, which enables them to capture small rodents in complete darkness. Their facial discs are positioned one slightly above the other, helping redirect the sound they capture to the bird’s ears, which are located beside its eyes.

They are adapted to a very silent flight that enables them to make a surprise attack on their prey. Barn Owls have very soft body feathers and hairy edges on the flight feathers, which diminish the friction with the air as the bird flies.

28 Frequently Asked Questions About Barn Owls - Avian Report (4)
Barn Owls mate for life but will form a pair with another mate if one member of the pair dies.

12. Do Barn owls mate for life?

Barn Owls do mate for life and are monogamous. In rare cases, a male has been observed nesting with more than one female. If one member of the pair dies, the surviving bird will form a pair with a new mate.

13. How long do Barn Owls live?

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the oldest known North American Barn Owl lived in Ohio and was at least 15 years, 5 months old when it died.

14. How can you tell the difference between a male and female Barn Owl?

Although they appear to be the same size, the female Barn Owl has more saturated colors, reddish breast, and a denser spotting on the breast.

(Video) Project Owl: Secrets of the Night by Dr Hugh Hanmer, BTO research ecologist

15. Where do barn owls go in the winter?

Barn Owls are year-round residents and don’t seem to migrate seasonally even in the northernmost and coldest months of the year.

28 Frequently Asked Questions About Barn Owls - Avian Report (5)
Barn Owls will nest in any natural cavity and use barns, old buildings, and any structure that offer the characteristics to lay eggs and raise the young. The arrow shows the location of a Barn Owl nest.

16. Where do Barn Owls nest?

Barn Owls nest in any type of cavity that is tall and wide enough to lodge adult birds and their chicks. They nest in tree holes, caves, and abandoned houses and buildings. They also roost and nest in active barns, hence their name.

17. What does a Barn Owl Nest look like?

Barn Owls do not build a nest as other birds do. They use nesting sites as roosts where they accumulate pellets they regurgitate every night. They make a depression in the layer of regurgitated pellets where the female lays the eggs.

18. How many eggs do Barn Owls lay?

Barn Owls lay from 2 to 18 Eggs! The quality and productivity of the habitat they live in appear to influence the number of eggs or clutch size.

28 Frequently Asked Questions About Barn Owls - Avian Report (6)
The number of eggs a Barn Owl lays and the young they can raise depending on the quality of the habitat and the food available to feed the young. They can lay up to 18 eggs.

19. What do Barn Owl eggs look like?

Barn Owl eggs are uniformly whitish.

20. How long does it take for Barn Owl egg to hatch?

Barn Owls incubate their eggs for 29 to 34 days before hatching.

21. How long do Barn Owl chicks stay in the nest and stay with the parents after leaving the nest?

Barn Owls Chicks stay in the nest for a period of 50 to 55 days before leaving the nest. The parents assist the chicks until the chicks become nutritionally independent.

28 Frequently Asked Questions About Barn Owls - Avian Report (7)
While Barn Owls, and owls in general, do not make good pets, one needs a permit to own a pet owl. Rehabilitation centers that receive owls and other wild birds also need to have a permit to perform such activity.

(Video) The Barn Owl: an insight into its conservation in Sussex

22. Are Barn Owl endangered?

No, they are not. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the population of Barn Owls maintains similar numbers as those recorded in 1966.

23. How many Barn Owls are there in North America?

Partners in Flight estimates an approximate population of 140,000 birds in the United States and 40,000 birds in Mexico.

24. Are barn owls rare?

Barn Owls are uncommon but difficult to see because they are nocturnal and remain in cavities or inside structures during the day.

25. Can I own a Barn Owl?

In the United States of America, it is illegal to own a wild bird or part of one (feathers, bones). A person wanting to own a Barn Owl as a pet would need to apply for a permit under the Migratory Bird section of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

26. Do owls make good pets?

No, Barn Owls do not make good pets. Owls are active during the night, making noise and may be willing to interact during the night, not during the day.

They need to be fed meat, which results in a liquid and smelly white poop that cannot be picked up but only wiped.

They also regurgitate pellets of hair and bones they are unable to digest.

Barn Owls need constant care and may develop habits such as biting and scratching when the caretaker does not interact with them regularly.

27. What are the threats to Barn Owls?

Barn Owls are threatened by habitat and nesting site loss to agricultural conversion and suburban development.

Barn Owls are susceptible to the poison used against rodents since they form a large part of the owls’ diet. Because Barn Owls hunt by flying low over fields, they are often hit by cars.

(Video) Solving bird problems without resorting to poison

28. What is the fine for killing an owl?

The Barn Owl is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Unauthorized intentional killing of migratory birds can be penalized with up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $15,000. Equipment used to pursue, hunt, or trap can also be seized.

Related Topic: How to Identify Birds


  • All About Birds. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.https://www.allaboutbirds.org/
  • BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet:Tytoalba.
  • Marti, C. D., A. F. Poole, and L. R. Bevier (2005). Barn Owl (Tyto alba), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.
  • Payne, Roger S. (1971). “Acoustic location of prey by barn owls (Tyto alba)”.Journal of Experimental Biology.54(3): 535–573.


What are some questions about owls? ›

Owl FAQs - Common Questions about Owls
  • What do owls eat? Owls are carnivores, meaning an owl's diet consists entirely of meat. ...
  • Where do owls live? ...
  • What is the smallest species of owl? ...
  • Do owls migrate? ...
  • What eats owls? ...
  • Do owls lay eggs? ...
  • Can owls move their eyes? ...
  • How do owls see in the dark?

What time do barn owls come out? ›

Barn owls are most active at dusk and dawn, but in winter or after prolonged rainfall, they may need to hunt during the day in order to survive.

What age do barn owls leave the nest? ›

owlets gradually venture further and further afield until at about 13 weeks old they instinctively leave to find their own home range. This is called dispersal. By 14 weeks almost all the owlets have left their parents' home range.

Do owls return to the same nest each year? ›

Owls will generally try to reoccupy the same nesting territories in consecutive years. Owls lay between one and thirteen eggs, depending on the species and also on the particular season; for most, however, three or four is the more common number.

Do owls return to the same place? ›

Owls generally keep the same nesting site in both summer and winter months and this can often last for around 8 consecutive years with the same mate. The benefits of having the same mate means that they can guard a territory together for a long period of time. Most owls do not migrate aside from the odd exception.

What is so special about barn owls? ›

The Barn Owl has excellent low-light vision, and can easily find prey at night by sight. But its ability to locate prey by sound alone is the best of any animal that has ever been tested. It can catch mice in complete darkness in the lab, or hidden by vegetation or snow out in the real world.

How smart are barn owls? ›

Owls are amazing creatures in their own right, but they are far from being smart birds. Owls are as intelligent as their environments require them to be. Their brain is tiny, and it is mostly dedicated to the sensory processes, with very little room for learning abilities or intelligence in general.

What eats a barn owl? ›

Barn owl subspecies in the western Palearctic are much smaller than those in North America. These subspecies are sometimes preyed upon by golden eagles, red kites, goshawks, buzzards, peregrine falcons, lanners, eagle owls and tawny owls.

How fast do barn owls fly? ›

Barn owls fly buoyantly and slowly while foraging for prey at speeds of approximately 10-20 miles per hour.

Do barn owls nest in the same place every year? ›

Barn owls do nest in the same place every year. In fact, many barn owl nests have been used for generations. If you have a nesting box for barn owls or a safe place that barn owls like to nest in, you will very likely see them return each year.

What month do barn owls nest? ›

Barn Owls usually lay between 4 and 6 rather small, white eggs. The main nesting season is March to August. The 'nest' is often a layer of old owl pellets. Traditional nest sites are often used for many generations.

What time of year do barn owls mate? ›

They have a longer potential breeding season than many other North American owls, and while March through June is the average window, barn owls may breed at other times of year.

Do owls recognize faces? ›

Facial Recognition

Owls can be classified by applying a basic form of facial recognition. Owls are a part of a group of birds known as 'Strigiformes', and can be grouped into two distinct groups, called 'families'.

What time of year are owls most active? ›

Late winter is one of the best seasons for bird watching, especially among birders who bird by ear. This is because the owls call is much more frequent than other times of the year. Males seek out new mates in the late winter, which is why there are more male owls actively seeking out mates.

Do owls mate for life? ›

Do owls mate for life? Yes. As a general rule, almost all owl species are monogamous. Although the migratory species might not stick together all year-round, they return to the same nesting site every breeding season to reproduce and raise their brood.

What are owls afraid of? ›

Research suggests that owls lack a true sense of fear. Intense bursts of human noise, such as clapping and shouting will unsettle an owl and they are also likely to be spooked by sudden flashes of bright light.

What do owls think of humans? ›

Owls are not affectionate or friendly to humans, and they can't develop such emotions. They are a lonely type of predatory bird, and their natural habitat is in the wild.

What kind of trees do owls like? ›

Great Horned Owls typically nest in trees such as cottonwood, juniper, beech, pine, and others. They usually adopt a nest that was built by another species, but they also use cavities in live trees, dead snags, deserted buildings, cliff ledges, and human-made platforms.

What is unique about owls? ›

Owls have zygodactyl feet with two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backward, and all their toes have sharp talons. This feature gives the birds a firmer, more powerful grip to be more effective predators. Owls have specialized feathers with fringes of varying softness that help muffle sound when they fly.

What challenges do owls face? ›

While owls' extraordinary hunting skills and nocturnal habits are the stuff of legend, the dangers they face are often overlooked. Threats like habitat loss, pesticides, and vehicle collisions have already sent a third of all owl species in the United States into decline.

How do barn owls protect themselves? ›

Like other birds in the raptor group, owls of all species use their beaks and talons to defend themselves. An owl's feet are equipped with particularly long, sharp and curved claws, which he can dig into an adversary and use like hooks to tear and rip at flesh.

What are barn owls called? ›

Other names for the Barn Owl have included Monkey-faced Owl, Ghost Owl, Church Owl, Death Owl, Hissing Owl, Hobgoblin or Hobby Owl, Golden Owl, Silver Owl, White Owl, Night Owl, Rat Owl, Straw Owl, and Delicate Owl. >> The Barn Owl calls infrequently, the usual call being a drawn-out rasping screech.

Do barn owls have an impact on the human population? ›

There are no negative impacts of barn owls on humans.

Do owls have memory? ›

Owls are not known for their excellent memory, but many species do roost and nest in the same location each year after migration. So, their memories are not any worse than most species of migratory birds. Owls have strong short-term location memory.

Why do barn owls scream? ›

The scream category consists of the advertising call (a drawn-out gargling scream), the distress call (a series of drawn-out harsh screams), the warning call (high-pitched scream), and the purring call (quiet scream used by male to attract female to a nest site).

Are barn owls aggressive? ›

Barn Owls are typically solitary birds, but they do sometimes live in pairs. They exhibit aggressive behaviors even as owlets, who often are seen pouncing at inanimate objects. They will defend their nests from intruders, chasing them out and attacking with claws.

What is a Barn Owls favorite food? ›

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.

What do Barn Owls do in the winter? ›

During hard winters, or in times of food shortages, Barn Owls sometimes hunt during the day, often frequenting the same open country habitats used by Northern Harriers.

Why is it called a barn owl? ›

One of the most distinctive facts about the barn owl is its haunting screeches, not a hoot like most other owls. These owls sleep in abandoned barns, which is where they get their names.

Why do Barn Owls shake their head? ›

This head-bobbing helps make up for an anatomical limitation: An owl's eyes are fixed in position, so they simply can't move the way our eyes do. To look up, down, or to the side, an owl has to move its head.

How big do Barn Owls get? ›

How heavy is a barn owl? ›

How far do barn owls travel? ›

In the winter they can be up to 5,000 hectares (that's 7,102 football pitches!) but in summer, when there's more food about, the area they use most shrinks to about 350 hectares. This equates to 1 km radius around the nest when they are breeding and about 4 km radius at other times.

Where do barn owls go in the summer? ›

Those that spend their summer in more northern states may fly south where it is warmer in the winter. There are year-round ranges with good populations in southern states, while the mid-west areas classify the bird's status as a serious concern. Barn owls can be found in every state except Alaska and throughout Canada.

Do barn owls have teeth? ›

Like all birds, owls do not have teeth. Owls swallow food whole or rip it apart in their beak and swallow pieces.

How long are owls pregnant for? ›

Incubation begins after the first egg is laid, so young hatch over a period of several days. According to the scientific literature, Great Horned Owls usually incubate their eggs for about 30—37 days.

How much does a barn owl eat per day? ›

Barn owls eat approximately 10% of their body weight on an average day. For example, a barn owl weighing 620g eats 62g of food per day.

What time do owls come out at night? ›

Owls usually hoot at night; they are most boisterous right after sunset, sporadic throughout the night, and can be heard shortly before sunrise too (12). This order of birds called Strigiformes is mostly nocturnal with only a few exceptions, so hearing calls or hoots from an owl is rare during the day (13).

Do Barn Owls call to each other? ›

It's made mostly by the male, who often calls repeatedly from the air. Females give the call infrequently. A softer, more wavering version of this is termed a purring call. Males use it to invite a female to inspect a nest site, and females use it to beg for food from the male.

How long do owls stay in one place? ›

Do they stay in the same place each year, or do they move around? Owls stay in one place for as long as eight years unless they are a rare migratory species like the snowy owl or the flammulated owl. Most owls do not migrate, and they keep the same nesting spot in the same territory year after year with the same mate.

How many babies do Barn Owls have at a time? ›

On average, barn owls raise six chicks at once—and sometimes as many as nine. But they don't all hatch at the same time, which means the older owlets are generally larger and healthier than their younger brothers and sisters.

How long do baby owls stay with their parents? ›

Baby owls can stay with their parents for 9 months

From being laid as an egg it can take up to 60 days for a baby owl to fledge. Once fledged the baby owls will stay close to the nest and still call for food from the parents.

How do owls feed their babies? ›

Their mother broods them by keeping them safely under and around her in the nest. ​Male owls hunt and bring food to the nest. Female owls will often tear the prey into smaller pieces and feed them to the nestlings. Owls grow quickly and within weeks begin to eat some prey whole, spit up pellets, and thermoregulate.

Do owls eat other birds eggs? ›

The Great Horned Owl is the most serious predatory threat to the Barred Owl and will eat eggs, young birds, and occasionally adults.

What is another name for owls? ›

In this page you can discover 28 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for owl, like: owlet, bird-of-prey, night-bird, hooter, strix, nocturnal bird, bubo, bird-of-night, bird-of-minerva, barn-owl and cuckoos.

What is female owl called? ›

Female owls are called hens, as is the case for chickens and many other bird species. Although, unlike chickens, male owls are simply called owls. Female owls differ in size and appearance across different species; however, female owls are usually larger than males.

Is owl male or female? ›

Females are often a rich brown with the grey being slightly darker and more extensive. Males are often light buff or white with barring either light grey or absent. Females are usually buff or brown with dark grey or black barring. If the tail is light and has no barring at all, the owl is almost certainly male.

What is gender of owl? ›

In general, all birds are classified as cocks if they are masculine and hens if they are feminine birds. Similarly, a female owl is called an owl hen and a male owl is called owl coco. A baby owl, in general, is called as an owlet. Owls belong to the family of raptors or preying birds.

What are owl lovers called? ›

1 Answer. A lover of owls is called a strigiformesphile. Strigiformesphilia refers to the love or attraction towards owls.

What is a barn owl called? ›

Other names for the Barn Owl have included Monkey-faced Owl, Ghost Owl, Church Owl, Death Owl, Hissing Owl, Hobgoblin or Hobby Owl, Golden Owl, Silver Owl, White Owl, Night Owl, Rat Owl, Straw Owl, and Delicate Owl. >> The Barn Owl calls infrequently, the usual call being a drawn-out rasping screech.

What do owls stand for? ›

People generally consider owl as symbols of wisdom and knowledge, thanks to the endless owl mythology and folklore references. Owl symbolism can also mean transition and time.

What is the opposite of owl? ›

The opposite of a night owl is an early bird – a lark as opposed to an owl – which is someone who tends to begin sleeping at a time that is considered early and also wakes early.

How can you tell the age of a barn-owl? ›

The age of primaries could be assessed by examining the degree of whiteness of their ventral surfaces and from these observed patterns of primary replacement, birds could be allocated to 1st year, 2nd year, and older than second year age categories.

What is the study of owls called? ›

< prev | next > ornithologistornithologists. ornithologyornithologist.

Are owls smart? ›

Owls are amazing creatures in their own right, but they are far from being smart birds. Owls are as intelligent as their environments require them to be. Their brain is tiny, and it is mostly dedicated to the sensory processes, with very little room for learning abilities or intelligence in general.

Do owls mate for life? ›

Do owls mate for life? Yes. As a general rule, almost all owl species are monogamous. Although the migratory species might not stick together all year-round, they return to the same nesting site every breeding season to reproduce and raise their brood.

How long can owls live? ›

Owls live an average of 5-12 years in the wild, and even longer in captivity. The lifespan of owls varies greatly depending on species, but more on that later. There are obvious differences in life spans between captive and wild owls as well.

Are owls friendly? ›

Like most birds of prey, owls are not friendly because they evolved to be alone. Unlike flock birds, which are used to being in groups, owls avoid being in the presence of any other species. Most owls live solitary lives, and friendly and affectionate behavior is not in their DNA.

What do owls feed on? ›

Owls eat other animals, from small insects such as moths or beetles, to large birds, even as large as an Osprey. A few species of owls mostly eat fish, such as Ketupa (fish-owl) and Scotopelia (fishing-owl) species, found in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, respectively.


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