Barn Owl

Tyto alba

Barn Owl
Barn Owl. Marc Evans

The distinctive and beautiful barn owl is one of the birds of prey that is most adapted to life near humans. Unlike many hawks and other predators, barn owls are often encouraged to nest on farms and near other developed areas because they prey almost exclusively on mice and other small rodents, which makes them excellent for pest control.

Common Name:

Barn Owl, Common Barn Owl, Ghost Owl, American Barn Owl, Monkey-Faced Owl, Rat Owl, Death Owl, Hobgoblin Owl

Scientific Name:

Tyto alba


  • Bill: Pale, hooked, can seem hidden in facial feathers
  • Size: 15-20 inches long with 45-inch wingspan, slim body
  • Colors: Gold, brown, white, black
  • Markings: Genders are similar a white, heart-shaped facial disc surrounded by a narrow white or golden brown rim. The head, nape of neck, back and wings are golden brown while the chest and abdomen are white or pale with faint black spots. Long legs are covered with fine white feathers, and the wings and tail have dark barring. Eyes are dark.


Small mammals, small birds

Habitat and Migration:

Barn owls are the most common owl species in the world and can be found on every continent except Antarctica, though they are scarce in many areas. In North America, barn owls prefer open grassland habitats including marshes and agricultural areas, and populations extend throughout the southern and western United States.

In the Midwest, barn owls are endangered in several states. Populations in the northern Great Plains region may migrate seasonally.


Barn owls can be noisy birds, particularly as nestlings. Common calls include a rasping, extended hiss when threatened or angry and a high screech that cuts off abruptly at the end.

Other sounds include beak snaps and tongue clicks.


Barn owls are primarily nocturnal hunters and are rarely seen during the day, though they may be spotted in the early morning and late evening. They are tactile birds that cuddle with their brood in the nest and can become very emotionally attached to their mates or wildlife handlers. Like all owls, barn owls have superb hearing and they have the best ability of all raptors to hunt prey by sound alone.


Barn owls are monogamous birds believed to mate for life. A pair of owls will incubate 2-3 broods of 2-18 eggs each during the nesting season, and depending on the climate they can nest at any time of year. The female parent incubates the eggs for 30-33 days, and the young birds remain in the nest to be fed by both parents for 55-65 days.

Attracting Barn Owls:

Barn owls readily nest in open silos, barns and other buildings in rural areas. If no suitable buildings are available, they will investigate hollow trees and will use nest boxes. Birders hoping to attract barn owls should avoid using rodent poisons that would restrict the owls’ food supply.

Similar Birds:

  • Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca)
  • Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)

    Photo – Barn Owl © Marc Evans
    Photo – Barn Owl in Flight © Luc Viatour