28 Frequently Asked Questions About Barn Owls

about barn owls
Barn Owl looking for small mammals in open habitats.

28 Frequently Asked Questions About Barn Owls

The Barn Owl, whose scientific name is Tyto alba is one of the world’s most popular owls. It occurs in most continents, and although fairly common and adapted to life with humans, it is rarely seen by many due largely to its nocturnal habits. The barn owl is a superb night hunter that uses its specialized sense of hearing and quite buoyant flight to detect prey in many types of open habitats. Owls have been regarded with fascination, awe, and fear throughout history.  They are often regarded as a sign of a bad omen, although attitudes towards owls are changing as we know more about their fascinating life.

The following are the most common questions about barn owls.

1. Where do Barn Owls live, or what is the barn owl habitat?

Barn Owls live (occur) everywhere. They are widespread but prefer grasslands, ranchland, brushy fields, open scrub, marshes, agricultural fields, and mixed grasslands woodlots. They do not normally enter woodlands.

2. Do Barn owls hunt in pairs?

No, Barn Owls hunt alone and do not defend their hunting grounds. There may be more than one Barn Owl foraging at the same area and time without being associated with one another.

3. How do Barn Owls catch their prey?

Barn Owls find their prey by flying slowly in a buoyant manner over open fields listening for small rodents.

They use their impressive hearing, aided by their satellite-dish-shaped faces, to locate mice in the grass, at dusk, and in complete darkness.

barn owl eat mice and rats
Barn Owls feed on small mammals and are effective in controlling the population size of mice and rats. 

4. Are Owls (Barn Owl) signs of death or a bad omen?

Not in the least. Owls are nocturnal raptors hence they are active at night when humans feel vulnerable.

The reputation of bad omen has been ingrained through storytelling and religion and, unfortunately continues to influence people’s attitudes towards owls.

Hawks and eagles are diurnal raptors. They do the same things as owls do but during the day. We can see them, therefore, we do not attribute a similar symbolism to hawks and eagles as we do to owls. Seeing an owl should be a sign of good luck!

5. What Do Barn owls Eat?

Barn Owls eat mostly small nocturnal mammals such as voles, rats, mice, lemmings, shrews, and small rabbits. Small birds and bats are rare in a Barn Owl’s diet.

6. How fast can a barn owl fly?

Barn owls fly buoyantly and slowly while foraging for prey at speeds of approximately 10-20 miles per hour. If flying in a straight line from point A to B, they fly faster, but there is no data on Barn Owl’s flying speed.

why barn owl are considered bad omen
Barn Owls and other owls, in general, have been subjected to prosecution due to their appearance, nocturnal habits, and their vocalizations at night.

7. What do owls (Barn owl) symbolize?

Owls have been regarded with fascination, awe, and fear throughout history. Owls’ presence and hoots mean something to different cultures.

Ancient Christians regarded owls as a symbol of the evil of the night. Unfortunately, that belief was ingrained and Christianity became the prevailing religion.

The Chinese saw owls as an announcement that someone was going to die. The ancient Greeks regarded owls as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge.

Some native cultures in North, Central, and South America associate owls with evil spirits, while others, with fertility or being companions of the night. Today, we know more about owls and associate them with beauty and an air of mystery.

8. Why do barn owls scream, and what other Calls do they make?

Owls communicate by giving a loud hissing shriek. Females make a similar but softer shriek. While in the nest, adults and chicks make a variety of hissing noises.

Calls of a Barn Owl.

9. Are barn owls dangerous?

Not at all. Barn Owls are rather shy and will fly away upon being approached by humans, even abandoning their eggs and chicks.

When a Barn owl looks straight at one, its pale and oval face and piercing dark eyes may give the impression that the bird is facing one-off but that is just an owl face.

10. Can a barn owl kill a cat?

Barn Owls weigh only a pound, and have claws adapted to grasp mice and other small rodents. They are incapable of killing or lifting a cat.

11. What type of special adaptations do Barn Owls have?

Barn Owls have very acute hearing, which enables them to capture small rodents in complete darkness. Their facial discs are positioned one slightly above the other, helping redirect the sound they capture to the bird’s ears, which are located beside its eyes.

They are adapted to a very silent flight that enables them to make a surprise attack on their prey. Barn Owls have very soft body feathers and hairy edges on the flight feathers, which diminish the friction with the air as the bird flies.

barn owls mate for life
Barn Owls mate for life but will form a pair with another mate if one member of the pair dies.

12. Do Barn owls mate for life?

Barn Owls do mate for life and are monogamous. In rare cases, a male has been observed nesting with more than one female. If one member of the pair dies, the surviving bird will form a pair with a new mate.

13. How long do Barn Owls live?

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the oldest known North American Barn Owl lived in Ohio and was at least 15 years, 5 months old when it died.

14. How can you tell the difference between a male and female Barn Owl?

Although they appear to be the same size, the female Barn Owl has more saturated colors, reddish breast, and a denser spotting on the breast.

15. Where do barn owls go in the winter?

Barn Owls are year-round residents and don’t seem to migrate seasonally even in the northernmost and coldest months of the year.

barn owl nest
Barn Owls will nest in any natural cavity and use barns, old buildings, and any structure that offer the characteristics to lay eggs and raise the young. The arrow shows the location of a Barn Owl nest.

16. Where do Barn Owls nest?

Barn Owls nest in any type of cavity that is tall and wide enough to lodge adult birds and their chicks. They nest in tree holes, caves, and abandoned houses and buildings.  They also roost and nest in active barns, hence their name.

17. What does a Barn Owl Nest look like?

Barn Owls do not build a nest as other birds do. They use nesting sites as roosts where they accumulate pellets they regurgitate every night. They make a depression in the layer of regurgitated pellets where the female lays the eggs.

18. How many eggs do Barn Owls lay?

Barn Owls lay from 2 to 18 Eggs! The quality and productivity of the habitat they live in appear to influence the number of eggs or clutch size.

barn owl eggs and chicks
The number of eggs a Barn Owl lays and the young they can raise depending on the quality of the habitat and the food available to feed the young. They can lay up to 18 eggs.

19. What do Barn Owl eggs look like?

Barn Owl eggs are uniformly whitish.

20. How long does it take for Barn Owl egg to hatch?

Barn Owls incubate their eggs for 29 to 34 days before hatching.

21. How long do Barn Owl chicks stay in the nest and stay with the parents after leaving the nest?

Barn Owls Chicks stay in the nest for a period of 50 to 55 days before leaving the nest. The parents assist the chicks until the chicks become nutritionally independent.

pet owl
While Barn Owls, and owls in general, do not make good pets, one needs a permit to own a pet owl. Rehabilitation centers that receive owls and other wild birds also need to have a permit to perform such activity.

22. Are Barn Owl endangered?

No, they are not. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the population of Barn Owls maintains similar numbers as those recorded in 1966.

23. How many Barn Owls are there in North America?

Partners in Flight estimates an approximate population of 140,000 birds in the United States and 40,000 birds in Mexico.

24. Are barn owls rare?

Barn Owls are uncommon but difficult to see because they are nocturnal and remain in cavities or inside structures during the day.

25. Can I own a Barn Owl?

In the United States of America, it is illegal to own a wild bird or part of one (feathers, bones). A person wanting to own a Barn Owl as a pet would need to apply for a permit under the Migratory Bird section of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

26. Do owls make good pets?

No, Barn Owls do not make good pets. Owls are active during the night, making noise and may be willing to interact during the night, not during the day.

They need to be fed meat, which results in a liquid and smelly white poop that cannot be picked up but only wiped.

They also regurgitate pellets of hair and bones they are unable to digest.

Barn Owls need constant care and may develop habits such as biting and scratching when the caretaker does not interact with them regularly.

27. What are the threats to Barn Owls?

Barn Owls are threatened by habitat and nesting site loss to agricultural conversion and suburban development.

Barn Owls are susceptible to the poison used against rodents since they form a large part of the owls’ diet. Because Barn Owls hunt by flying low over fields, they are often hit by cars.

28. What is the fine for killing an owl?

The Barn Owl is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Unauthorized intentional killing of migratory birds can be penalized with up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $15,000. Equipment used to pursue, hunt, or trap can also be seized.

Related Topic: How to Identify Birds


  • All About Birds. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/
  • BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Tyto alba.
  • Marti, C. D., A. F. Poole, and L. R. Bevier (2005). Barn Owl (Tyto alba), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.
  • Payne, Roger S. (1971). “Acoustic location of prey by barn owls (Tyto alba)”. Journal of Experimental Biology54 (3): 535–573.