Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Animal Profile

Scientific name Tyto alba
Class Bird
Length 16 inches (40.6 cm)
Weight 23 ounces (652 g)
Life span 10-20 years
Gestation 4-5 weeks
Number of eggs 3-6 at a time
Age of maturity 1 year
Conservation status Least Concern

They’re everywhere!
Barn owls can be found all over the world in North, Central, and South America as well as Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. They live mainly in open woodlands.

The barn owl menu
In the wild, barn owls eat small animals like rodents, birds, and lizards. At the zoo, they eat thawed frozen mice and a commercially prepared meat diet for birds of prey.

The common adult barn owl has two color phases: white and orange. In the white phase, the owl is colored a pale yellow-orange, spotted with dark gray-brown and white. Its wings are a tawny color, with a medium orange tail that is mottled with gray. Its facial disk is white circled by a dark brown ruff with brown patches in front of its eyes. The orange phase, however, is darker with a medium brown facial disk. It has a pale yellow underside that is spotted with brown. A juvenile/immature bird is basically the same, but with less extensive spotting. Their upper feathers are a tawny brown color with a white, feathered body underneath. The barn owl has a very distinct heart-shaped facial disk, surrounded by a dark ruff. It has small, dark eyes, an elongated beak, and no ear tufts. Its wings are about two times the length of its tail, and its tarsi (talons) are also covered with short feathers. Males and females look very much alike, although the female is slightly larger.

Stealth over strength
Barn owls are nocturnal birds (active at night) with excellent eyesight and hearing and can pinpoint prey in total darkness. When owls fly through the air, they make almost no noise at all due to the soft edges on their feathers. This lets them sneak up on their prey. After spotting prey by flying low over the ground or watching from a perch, a barn owl catches its food using its powerful legs and sharp, curved talons.

Who gives a hoot? Not the barn owl!
Unlike other owls, barn owls do not “hoot.” Instead, they talk to other owls with long screeches. The owl’s vocabulary consists of hisses, screeches, and a beak snap used to indicate anger. They have been known to let out almost blood-curdling hissing or raspy screams. Their defensive attitude, crouching or lying flat on the ground with wings spread horizontally, is different from that of other owls. Warning is expressed by lowering the head and swinging it to and fro close to the ground or stretching it forward, hissing, and snapping the beak and drooping the wings.

Barn sweet barn
When a barn owl is one year old, it will find its mate. The two owls will stay together throughout their lives. The barn owl’s mating ritual begins with the male hovering in one spot over the female; and, heading to the sky, emitting a sort of breathless choking sound. If the female does not accept, the male leaves. If she does accept, the male repeatedly claps his wings beneath him, then flies off and returns with a small rodent. The female lays eggs in a hollow tree or an abandoned building, such as a barn. No nest is built. The round, white eggs are laid on dirt, feathers or old castings which help to hold them in place. Only the females incubate the eggs, being fed daily by their mates during the incubation period. Both parents take care of their young, which are born without feathers and with eyes closed. The chicks hatch in the order the eggs were laid, with the first eggs hatching several days before the last. They are kept in the nest and fed up to 1.5 times their own weight each day until they are about 22 days old. The chicks are covered with a soft, fluffy down when first hatched and fledge, fully feathered, at 10-12 weeks of age.