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Barn Owl

Barn Owl
Both sexes: Pale-golden buff above, white on face and below.

The beautiful Barn Owl is mainly nocturnal, so for many of us a fleeting glimpse in the car headlights at night time is the commonest sighting. They are about the same size as Tawny Owls.

The white heart-shaped face and dark eyes are distinctive features of Barn Owls. The upperparts are a golden buff with pale grey and black mottling. The underparts and feathered legs are white.

The sexes are similar, but the female has slightly more streaking and spotting on the back and breast, and is larger than the male (wt. 330-460 g). When they are seen hunting in daylight, they appear low over the ground with a moth-like flight, hovering quite frequently.

Barn Owl Hunting
Barn Owl Hunting

Scientific Name Tyto alba
Length 33-39 cm (13-15")
Wing Span 85-93 cm (34-37")
Weight 290-460 g (10-16 oz)
Breeding Pairs 5000
Present All Year
Status Green

Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.


The Barn Owl makes a variety of blood-curdling screeches and hisses.


© Jean Roché,


They hunt over open country for rodents (mainly voles), other small mammals, frogs, birds, and insects. Prey are normally caught during the night, though when they are feeding young or struggling to find enough food during harsh winter weather the birds can be seen in the daytime.


The nest site is usually in a tree or buildings, such as barns and derelict buildings, but also crevices in rocks and cliffs. At best the nest is a shallow hollow in existing debris. The birds usually pair for life.

The female alone incubates the eggs, which are white, smooth and non-glossy, and about 40 mm by 32 mm. The newly-hatched young are fed by both adults. As with many owls the eggs are laid at about 2 day intervals, but the eggs are incubated straightaway and so also hatch at about 2 day intervals. If food is in short supply, the parents feed the oldest (and biggest) chick and the younger ones die and become food for the surviving chick or chicks.

Barn Owls will use nest boxes.

Breeding Starts Clutches Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
April 1-2 4-7 27-34 c. 60


Most Barn Owls are resident and sedentary, though juveniles disperse as soon as they are independent.


In the last 30 years or so the Barn Owl population has fallen by something like 50-70%, but the population now seems to have stabilised (except in Ireland). The fall was largely a result of habitat loss through changes in farming practices, for example: loss of hedgerows where their prey lives. However, not only are many Barn Owls killed in collisions with road vehicles, but increasing numbers of birds have been failing to breed in recent years.