Lake Milton Raptor Center

Barn Owl

Tyto alba
Barn Owl Barn Owl Barn Owl
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Strigiformes
  • Family: Tytonidae
  • Genus: Tyto
  • Species: Tyto alba
  • Geographic Range

    Barn owls, the most widespread of all owl species, are found on every continent except Antarctica. In the Americas, barn owls occur in suitable habitat throughout South and Central America, and in North America as far north as the northern United States and southwestern British Columbia. In Europe, barn owls range from southern Spain to southern Sweden and east to Russia. They are also found throughout Africa, across central and southern Asia, and throughout Australia. Barn owls have been introduced to some oceanic islands in attempts to control rodent pests.


    Barn owls occupy a vast range of habitats from rural to urban. They prefer warm climates with mild winters. Nearby open grassland is essential, however, for hunting. They will nest in many different locations, including trees, cliffs, caves, riverbanks, church steeples, barn lofts, hay stacks, and nest boxes. Barn owls are almost never found in deep forests or mountains.

    These animals are found in the following types of habitat: temperate; tropical; terrestrial .

    Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune; savanna or grassland; forest; scrub forest.

    Physical Description

    Mass 430 to 620 g (15.14 to 21.82 oz)
    Length 32 to 40 cm (12.6 to 15.75 in)
    Wingspan 107 to 110 cm (42.13 to 43.31 in)

    Barn owls are medium-sized with long legs that are sparsely feathered down to their grey toes. The head is large and rounded without ear tufts. Barn owls have rounded wings and a short tail that is covered with white or light brown, downy feathers. The upperside of the bird is a light brown while the underside is a greyish white. Barn owls are very striking in appearance. Females tend to be larger, weighing around 570 grams, while males weigh around 470 grams. Females also have a slightly longer body length and wingspan.

    Sexual dimorphism: female larger.


    Breeding interval

    Barn owls breed once or twice yearly; somtimes even three broods per year are produced.

    Breeding season Barn owls will breed essentially any time of the year, depending upon food supply.

    Eggs per season 2 to 9
    Time to hatching 29 to 34 days; avg. 30.80 days
    Time to fledging 64.30 days (average)
    Time to independence 10 to 15 weeks

    Age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female) 1 years (average)
    Age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male) 1 years (average)

    Courtship begins with display flights by males which are accompanied by advertising calls and chasing the female. During the chase, both the male and the female screech. The male will also hover with feet dangling in front of the perched female for several seconds; these are known as moth flights. Pairs typically remain together as long as both live. Barn owls are most commonly monogamous although several reports of polygyny exist.

    Copulation occurs every few minutes during the nest site search. Both sexes crouch down in front of each other to solicit copulation. The male mounts the female, grasps her neck, and balances with spread wings. Copulation continues with decreasing frequency throughout incubation and chick rearing.

    Barn owl pairs often use an old nest that has been occupied for decades rather than buiding a new one. The female typically lays four to seven solid white eggs in a dark space surrounded by pellets. She then incubates them for 29 to 34 days. Young birds usually become independent of adults in mid-to late summer.

    Due to the short life span of barn owls (2 years on average), most individuals breed only once or twice.

    Female barn owls leave the nest during incubation only briefly and at long intervals. During this time, the male feeds the incubating female. All brooding is by the female, beginning immediately after hatching and lasting until the oldest young is about 25 days old. Males bring food to the nest but only the female feeds the young, initially tearing the food into small pieces.

    Lifespan/Longevity Longest known lifespan in wild 8 years.
    Expected lifespan in wild 20.90 months (average)

    Most barn owls have a relatively short life span. Many only survive one breeding season and the mortality rate may be as high as 75% in the first year of life. However, the highest recorded wild lifespan in a barn owl is 8 years.


    When barn owls are not breeding, they are solitary or occur in pairs. Barn owls are normally strictly nocturnal. They typically roost in tree cavities, cliff crevices, or in riverbanks, but can also be found roosting in many human structures such as barns, nest boxes, and churches. Barn owls are such efficient hunters that it is suspected that they spend much time loafing. They are only partially migratory, with northern populations flying south during the winter months.

    Home Range

    Little is known about individual spacing. Members of a pair often roost side by side.

    Communication and Perception

    Owlets still in the nest utter several distinct vocalizations, including a twitter expressing discomfort, attention-seeking, and used when quarreling among nestmates. Young also give a raspy snoring food call. Adults give a variety of vocalizations, including the advertising call, a drawn-out gargling scream that is probably the best known call. The distress call is a series of drawn-out screams. Other vocalizations include a defensive hissing sound, a fast, often prolonged, twitter for feeding, and an explosive yell that is usually directed at a mammalian predator. Also, greeting and conversational twitters seem to convey recognition of mate and accompany various courtship activities. Barn owls are much less vocal when not breeding. Barn owls make a "khurrew" noise rather than a "hoot" like most other owls.

    The ability of barn owls to locate prey by sound is the most accurate of any animal tested, allowing capture of prey hidden by vegetation or snow. Their low-light vision is also excellent. Their amazing ability to locate prey using sound is aided by their asymmetrically placed ears. This asymmetry allows these owls to better localize sounds generated by prey. Their ears are extremely sensitive and can be closed by small feathered flaps if the noise level is too disturbing.