Barn OwlTyto alba

adult male
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult female
Carl D. Marti/VIREO
adult female
Carl D. Marti/VIREO
adult
Kevin Smith/VIREO
adult
Steve Young/VIREO
owlets
Tom Vezo/VIREO

Family

Description

With its ghostly appearance, rasping shrieks, and habit of roosting in such places as church belfries, this bird has attracted much superstition. However, it is really a good omen for farmers who find it in their barns, for it preys chiefly on mice and rats. Discovered in its daytime retreat, the Barn Owl bobs its head and weaves back and forth, peering at the intruder. At night it is often heard calling as it flies high over farmland or marshes. One of the most widespread of all landbirds, found on six continents and many islands.

Habitat

Woodlands, groves, farms, barns, towns, cliffs. Typically in open or semi-open country in lowlands. May nest in forest or city if nearby area has good open foraging territory, such as farmland, marsh, prairie, desert.

Feeding Diet

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.

Feeding Behavior

Hunts at night, seldom by day. Seeks prey mostly by flying low over open ground, watching and listening; sometimes hunts by flying down from a perch. Has excellent vision in low light levels, and hearing is so precise that it can strike prey in total darkness.

Nesting

In courtship, male performs display flight, including loud wing-claps; male feeds female. Nest: Uses sites in caves and hollow trees, also many artificial sites such as barn lofts, church steeples, abandoned houses, dry wells, crevices under bridges, nest boxes. Where no existing cavities available, will dig holes in dirt banks. No real nest built, but will arrange debris into crude depression. Eggs: Usually 3-8, sometimes 2-12 or even more. Whitish, sometimes becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by female only, 29-34 days; male brings food to female during incubation. Young: Female remains with young at first and broods them while they are small; male brings food, female feeds it to young. After about 2 weeks, female hunts also. Age of young at first flight roughly 55-65 days. Young return to sleep at nest or nearby for several more weeks. 1-2 broods per year, sometimes 3.

Eggs

Usually 3-8, sometimes 2-12 or even more. Whitish, sometimes becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by female only, 29-34 days; male brings food to female during incubation. Young: Female remains with young at first and broods them while they are small; male brings food, female feeds it to young. After about 2 weeks, female hunts also. Age of young at first flight roughly 55-65 days. Young return to sleep at nest or nearby for several more weeks. 1-2 broods per year, sometimes 3.

Young

Female remains with young at first and broods them while they are small; male brings food, female feeds it to young. After about 2 weeks, female hunts also. Age of young at first flight roughly 55-65 days. Young return to sleep at nest or nearby for several more weeks. 1-2 broods per year, sometimes 3.

Conservation

In recent decades, has declined slightly in some regions, drastically in others. Numbers are apparently stable or increasing in a few sites. May be helped in some areas by provision of nest boxes.

Range

Some remain all winter near northern edges of range, but some (perhaps especially young birds) move long distances southward in fall. A regular October migrant at Cape May, New Jersey.

Listen

screams of young
screams #2
tinkling calls
screams #1

Similar Species

adult male

Snowy Owl

A large, powerful owl of the high Arctic tundra, colored for camouflage during northern winters. In summer it may be nomadic, concentrating and nesting where there are high populations of the small rodents called lemmings. At other times it takes a wide variety of prey, including birds as big as geese. During some winters, large numbers of Snowy Owls appear south of the Canadian border; those that stop in towns and cities invariably cause a stir and attract media attention.

adult Northern Spotted Owl

Spotted Owl

Because it requires old-growth forest, this owl has been at the center of fierce controversy between conservationists and the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest. The owl itself seems anything but fierce: it has a gentle look, and it preys mostly on small mammals inside the forest. Its deep hooting calls carry far on still nights, especially in southwestern canyons where they may echo for more than a mile. Found on their daytime roosts, Spotted Owls may allow close approach.

adult

Barred Owl

The rich baritone hooting of the Barred Owl is a characteristic sound in southern swamps, where members of a pair often will call back and forth to each other. Although the bird is mostly active at night, it will also call and even hunt in the daytime. Only a little smaller than the Great Horned Owl, the Barred Owl is markedly less aggressive, and competition with its tough cousin may keep the Barred out of more open woods.

adult male

Short-eared Owl

Easier to see than most owls, the Short-ear lives in open terrain, such as prairies and marshes. It is often active during daylight, especially in the evening. When hunting it flies low over the fields, with buoyant, floppy wingbeats, looking rather like a giant moth. Aside from its North American range, it also nests in South America and Eurasia, and on many oceanic islands, including Hawaii.

Vireo

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