Home > Barn Owl Biology
Interior links   Connections to the best of our site
Barn Owl Multimedia Page Central American Owls North American Owls

Barn Owl Biology
A Reference for North and Central American Owls

Barn Owl - Tyto alba

Breeding Range Map  
Other Common Names: Monkey-faced
Owl; Ghost Owl; Golden Owl.

Subspecies: There are as many as 46 races of Common Barn owl recognized across the world. There is only one race recognized in North America. As many as 5 more are described from Central America (1 in the Bahamas, 1 in Cuba, 1 from the Isle of Pines, 1 from Hispanola, and 1 from Guatemala south to the Panama Canal). The ranges of these are not well defined and also need review so are not listed here.
T. a. pratincola is found in S. W. British Columbia south and east through most of the U. S. (except some of the northern-central states) and Mexico. This is the largest race (physical size) of Barn Owl in the world.

Measurements and Weights:
Wingspan: 43 - 47 in.
Length: 14 - 20 in.
Tail: 5 - 6 in.
Average Weight:
Male: 15 3/4 oz.
Female: 17 1/2 oz.

Description: The Barn Owl is North America's only member of the family Tytonidae (all other owls are from the Strigidae family) sometimes called the monkey-faced owl family. This is a medium sized owl that lacks ear tufts. Unlike all other owls it has a distinctive heart shaped facial disk. It also has relatively long legs (the only other owl with long legs is the Burrowing Owl). This is primarily a nocturnal owl although it has relatively small eyes in comparison to the other owls. The females tend to be slightly darker overall than the males. White facial disk with brown to orange-brown border. It has dark eyes and an ivory colored bill. The under parts are white with a light pale orange or yellow wash with small gray to brown dots. The upper parts are a pale orange or yellow with a mix of light to dark gray also with small dots.
Young: After the loss of their initial hatchling down, the juveniles are identical to the adults except for possibly more heavily spotted.

Habitat: The Barn Owl's favorite habitat consists of an open low-lying area, preferably below 750-ft. elevation, with an abundant vole population. Although the owl has an extensive range it is uncommon higher in the mountains. Grasslands in areas of milder climates with old buildings or hollow trees for perching and nesting may support large concentrations. The owl also avoids areas with low mean January temperatures, densely forested and intensively cultivated areas.

Food and Feeding: The Barn Owl's diet is dominated with mice, rats, voles, gophers, and shrews. In smaller amounts it will also take a vast array of other food including larger insects, reptiles, fish, and smaller birds. Normally the Barn Owl actively hunts and often follows a favorite course or returns to favorite hunting areas. Although it will pounce on prey from a perch also it normally flies low (less than 10 ft.) from the ground and dives onto prey with talons extended. It has high auditory acuity and can catch prey in complete darkness. Although the Barn Owl is highly nocturnal it can be observed hunting in daylight.

Breeding: The Barn Owl nests in a variety of places. Nest sites include hollows or natural cavities in trees, old man made structures (barns, abandoned wells, chimneys, old buildings...), caves, cliffs, and even on the ground. Two broods are common and breeding season lasts March-August. Broods can vary from 2 - 16 eggs (fledging success declines sharply after 6 eggs) although 5 - 7 is most common. Incubation is from 29 - 34 days and the young fledge at about 56-62 days. The young are dependent on the parents for an additional 2 months. In the case of duel broods, the female may begin laying eggs before the youngest of the first clutch has fledged.

Movements and Life Span: Barn Owls in southern latitudes tend to be sedentary except during harsh winters. Juvenile dispersals account for most southern population movements although some wandering also may occur with adult birds. Juvenile dispersals are generally limited to 15 - 60 miles. Northern nesting birds frequently move more than 200 miles south and rarely as far as 600 miles. Barn Owls have been recorded to live up to 17 years of age.

Copyright Owling.com 2001. 
All rights reserved.

If you have comments or suggestions,
email webmaster at