Length - 12.5 to 15.5 inches
Wingspan - 42 to 43 inches
Weight - 15.5 to 20 ounces
Medium Sized Owl
Females are usually larger than males but there is overlap in size
Have you ever seen a barn owl in the wild? These birds with pale heart shaped faces, long lanky legs, and eerie screams and hisses are truly unique among all other owls. There is nothing like the sight of this ghostly bird gliding silently through the night sky or peering down from the top of a silo. Pictures don’t do justice to the beauty of their plumage. Coloring varies among individuals. Females are usually more heavily spotted on the breast than males and this appears to be important to barn owls. Experiments have shown that if a female’s spots are removed, her nestlings are fed by the male at a lower rate that if her spots are retained!
Adult Barn Owl
Barn Owl (Tyto Alba)
Generally stable worldwide with some regions in decline
Barn Owl Nestlings in Nest Box
Barn Owl Adult in Nest Box
Barn owls are the ultimate nighttime hunters. Like other owls, they have excellent night vision. But they don’t depend on vision alone for capturing prey. Like other owls, barn owls have excellent hearing. In fact, experiments have shown that a barn owl’s hearing is so good, she can capture prey in total darkness. This ability comes from the owl’s unique anatomy. Like many owls, the barn owl’s ears are not symmetrical. The barn owl’s left ear is higher than the right and flaps of tissue in front of the ear openings are slanted differently on the left and right making it possible for them to accurately locate prey by sound alone. So, if they’re hunting in total darkness, how do they avoid colliding with the ground, walls or other objects? When there’s enough light for them to see, they glide swiftly toward prey with legs tucked back bringing their feet forward at the last second to grab prey. In total darkness, they flap slowly with feet down, almost feeling their way.
Lifespan and Breeding
Barn owls are surprisingly short-lived birds for their size. In the wild, the average lifespan of a barn owl is only 1 to 2 years, rarely 3. There are several contributing factors. Barn owls are more susceptible to the elements than most other owls. Their unfeathered legs provide little protection. Their feathers are less water resistant than most other owls and provide less insulation. Their unusually high metabolic rate means they need more food than most other owls. In captivity where shelter and food are provided, barn owls can live as long as 20 years. They compensate for a short lifespan in the wild by breeding at less than a year old, breeding at any time of year, sometimes breeding twice a year and laying between 3 and 12 eggs depending on the rodent population. They also compensate by nesting in human made structures like barns and silos that provide good shelter and an abundance of small rodents.
Distribution and Status
Barn owls are among the most widespread of all land birds with a presence on every continent except Antarctica. There are as many as 46 sub-species of barn owls identified worldwide. Those found in North America are the largest – as much as 50% larger than those in Europe and twice as large as the smallest native to the Gallapagos Islands. Despite this healthy worldwide population, many parts of North America are experiencing a precipitous decline due to loss of hunting habitat and nesting sites. The good news is that we can do something to reverse the trend. Many successful projects have proven that placement of properly designed nest boxes, in appropriate habitat, can significantly improve population densities of these amazing birds of prey. This helps the birds and helps us. Barn owls benefit our environment by doing their part to control the rodent population. A family of barn owls will consume thousands of mice each year. Some environmentally conscious farmers are successfully replacing rodenticides with nest boxes to attract barn owls. Contact us if you’re interested in putting up a box. We’ll be happy to help!