Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

Barn Owl

[order] STRIGIFORMES | [family] Tytonidae | [latin] Tyto alba | [authority] Scopoli, 1769 | [UK] Barn Owl | [FR] Effraie des clochers | [DE] Schleiereule | [ES] Lechuza de Campanario comun | [NL] Kerkuil


Monotypic species


The genus Tyto includes all barn-owls (family Tytonidae) except for the bay-owls (subfamily Phodilinae, genus Phodilus) – that is, the true barn-owls, the grass-owls and the masked-owls collectively making up the subfamily Tytoninae. They are darker on the back than the front, usually an orange-brown colour, the front being a paler version of the back or mottled, although there is considerable variation even amongst species. Tyto owls have a divided, heart-shaped facial disc, and lack the ear-like tufts of feathers found in many other owls. Tyto owls tend to be larger than Bay-owls.

Physical charateristics

The Barn Owl is a gray-and-tawny owl with a white, heart-shaped face and dark eyes. It has long legs. This owl is mostly white underneath, but may be buffy or spotted on its breast. The male and female look similar, but the female tends to be more densely spotted or darker below. The female is slightly larger than the male, generally with a rounder face.
Barn Owls bob their heads and weave back and forth, giving them a spooky appearance. They hunt mostly at night, flying low over open ground, listening and watching for prey. Their vision is adapted for low light levels, and their hearing is highly precise. Barn Owls can accurately locate prey entirely by sound and strike successfully in total darkness. No other animal tested has as great an ability to locate prey by sound.

Listen to the sound of Barn Owl

[audio: Owl.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 80 cm wingspan max.: 95 cm
size min.: 33 cm size max.: 39 cm
incubation min.: 30 days incubation max.: 31 days
fledging min.: 50 days fledging max.: 31 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 4  
      eggs max.: 7  


North America, South America, Africa, Eurasia, Oriental Region : widespread


Barn Owls occur worldwide, and are usually found in open or semi-open habitats. In Washington, they are closely associated with agricultural areas or basalt cliffs, as well as forest openings, wetlands, and other relatively large, open spaces. In winter, they roost in dense conifers or barns.


The male attracts a female with a display flight, and brings food to the female during courtship, which begins in winter. They form a long-term pair bond (that often lasts as long as both members are alive), and nesting begins early in the year, with most egg-laying between March and May. Nests are located on cliffs, in haystacks, hollow trees, burrows in irrigation canals, or in barns, old buildings, or other cavities. Barn Owls use barns and buildings less often in eastern Washington than in other parts of their range, as many of these nesting sites have been taken over by Great Horned Owls. They do not build a true nest, but much of the debris around the nest, including pellets, is formed into a depression. The female lays 2-11 eggs (usually about 5), and incubates them for 29-34 days. She begins to incubate as soon as the first egg is laid, so the young hatch 2-3 days apart. The male brings her food while she incubates. In the first two weeks after the young hatch, the female stays on the nest to brood them, and the male brings food for the female and the owlets. He delivers the food to the female, and she feeds the young. After about two weeks, the female begins to leave the young and hunt as well. The young first start to fly at about 60 days, although they return to the nest site at night for a few more weeks. Barn Owls generally raise one or two broods per year, but when food is abundant, they may raise three.

Feeding habits

Small mammals (mostly rodents) are the main prey. When voles are abundant, they become a major source of food, and in these years, some Barn Owls may be able to raise additional broods.

Video Barn Owl


copyright: youtube


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Tyto alba is a widespread resident across much of Europe, which accounts for less than a quarter of its vast global range. Its European breeding population is large (>110,000 pairs), but underwent a moderate decline between 1970-1990. Although the species was stable or increased across much of Europe during 1990-2000, there were declines in a number of countries-including the key population in Spain-and the species probably underwent a moderate decline (>10%) overall).
In North America there is general concern that this widespread species is declining, but owls are difficult to survey for population trends. They seem to be expanding their range in the lower Columbia Basin. They do not appear to do well in harsh winters, and die-offs are often observed in severe winters, which may limit their numbers in some parts of Washington. As human populations continue to expand, more and more habitat is destroyed, although Barn Owls do respond well to nest-box programs. In recent years, farmers have begun to recognize their value for pest control (a family of Barn Owls can kill about 1,300 rats a year) and have provided nesting sites, which may help in the face of habitat destruction. Roadside collisions are a major cause of mortality and may threaten population levels in some areas.
Barn Owl status Least Concern


West Palearctic populations basically resident, though young birds especially make dispersals which (in Europe) are more extensive in some years than others. No clear overall directional trend to movements within Europe, except that longer movements (above 300 km) tend to be south of east-west axis.

Distribution map

Barn Owl distribution range map


Title Habitat preferences and causes of population decline for Barn owls Tyto alba: a multi-scale approach
Author(s): Jose Antonio Martnez & Iigo Zuberogoitia
Abstract: Aims: Habitat preferences of Barn Owls was studied..[more]..
Source: Ardeola 51(2), 2004, 303-317

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Title Food partitioning between breeding White-tailed Kites
(Elanus leucurus; Aves; Accipitridae) and Barn Owls
(Tyto alba; Aves; Tytonidae) in southern Brazil
Author(s): Scheibler, DR.
Abstract: I examined the diet of breeding White-tailed Kites..[more]..
Source: Braz. J. Biol., 67(1): 65-71, 2007

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Title The occurrence of the Barn Owl Tyto alba in
sacred buildings in central-eastern Poland
Author(s): A. Golawski & Kowalski
Abstract: The occurrence of Barn Owl Tyto alba is
strongly ..[more]..
Source: ORNIS HUNGARICA 12-13: 1-2 (2003)

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Title Population ecology and conservation of the Barn Owl Tyto alba in farmland habitats in Liemers and Achterhoek (The Netherlands).
Author(s): De Bruijn O.
Abstract: Over the last decades, the Barn Owl population has..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 82 (1): 1-109.

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Title Natural and experimental nest-switching in Barn Owl Tyto alba fledglings.
Author(s): Roulin A.
Abstract: In altricial birds fledglings may be selected for ..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 87 (2): 237-246

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Title Effect of brood size manipulations on parents and offspring in the Barn Owl Tyto alba.
Author(s): Roulin A., Ducrest A.L. & Dijkstra C
Abstract: When the overall food demand of the young increase..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 87 (1): 91-100.

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