Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Details About The Barn Owl

  • General Information

    Barn Owls have large heads without ear tufts. Their facial disk is distinctively heart-shaped, unique among North American owls, and females tend to be darker in the face than males. Barn Owls have an ivory-colored beak that looks like a long nose, long feathered legs and toes. There are two color phases: white phase has white underparts sometimes with phases: white phase has white underparts sometimes wtih brown or bLack specks; organe phrase has no white in plumage, only tawny or buff colors. Immature barn owls are similar to adults, only more down is visible and chicks have white to buffy white down.

    Latin Name: Tyto alba
    Class: Aves
    Order: Strigiformes
    Family: Tytonidae
    Length: 13-20 inches
    Weight: ~1 pound
    Wingspan: 43-48 inches
    Common Name: Ghost Owl, Monkey-Faced Owl, Heart Faced Owl, Spirit Owl, Sweetheart Owl
    Etymology: tuto (Greek) -"night owl"; alba (Latin) - "white"

  • Flight, Voice & Habitat

    The flight of the Barn Owl is swift from side to side rather than in a straight line. In breeding season, they are typically active shortly after sunset and just before sunrise.

    The Barn Owl call consists of loud hisses, shrill screeches, beak snapping, and sometimes shrieking. Barn Owls don't hoot; they hiss and scream. Because of their vocalizations and beautiful white plumage, these owls are probably the source of many ghost stories.

    You can find Barn Owls most often in the countryside with open fields for hunting and old buildings for nesting. They prefer open country, on the forest edge and in cultivated areas in towns and cities.

  • Nesting

    These owls usually breed at one year old. As with most owls, there is no nest construction. Barn Owls usually lay 2-18 (generally 3-10) white (sometimes yellowish or bluish) eggs on bare wood or stone in old buildings or barns, silos, or other tall structures; caves; hollow trees; sometimes even in a ground burrow. Nests are reused year after year but by different pairs. Incubation lasts 29-34 days, usually 33 days. Barn Owl young fledge at about 56-62 days. Only the female has an incubation patch, and she does all the brooding. Barn Owls are usually monogamous but will re-mate if one of the pair disappears. They breed year-round; northern populations will breed on "normal" cycle and will often lay another clutch before young from the first clutch fledges. The Barn Owl seems to practice a form of birth control; when food is scarce, they lay fewer eggs or do not breed at all.

  • Distribution

    Barn Owls are found nearly worldwide. In North America, they range from southern Canada southward into Central America and are common in local pockets.

  • Food

    Barn Owls are solitary hunters, typically quartering up and down open grasslands, eating 90% small rodents such as voles and field mice. When attacking prey in the dark, they approach with wings flapping and feet swinging like a pendulum. When directly over the prey, the owl will swing the feet forward, raise their wings and throw the head back with eyes closed. The prey is attacked with the feet, and the beak is used to kill. Barn Owls are incredibly efficient; they have been recorded catching 60 mice per hour! Young owls learn early how to hunt, and will pounce repeatedly at inanimate objects.

  • Current Resident Birds

    Emma the Barn Owl's name means "universal." She was given this name because Barn Owls are found all over the world. In North Carolina, Barn Owls are endangered because of loss of habitat and the use of rodenticides. Because of this, they often mate 2-3 times a year in order to increase their numbers. Emma came to Carolina Raptor Center in 2004 from the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina.


    A mountain bird, Harvey, the male Barn Owl on the Raptor Trail, came to Carolina Raptor Center in 2001 from nearby Buncombe County. He was named after the invisible rabbit in the Jimmy Stewart Movie, "Harvey," by a Raptor Center volunteer.

    Minerva, the Barn Owl, made her first home in an old abandoned combine before upgrading to her enclosure on the display trail at Carolina Raptor Center in 2013. She is named for the Roman goddes of wisdom, belying the myth that owls are wise.

    Surrey, the Birtish Barn Owl, responds briskly to an English accent. Native of the British Isles, he was named by a valued donor for the English county where his mother was born. . Part of our education team, this proper chap is a star in programs on and off site. 

    Poplar joined the CRC team in 2018 with her sister Aspen, and is currently in training. Their parents were an American Barn Owl and a British Barn Owl, so they have traits of American and British Barn Owls. 

    Aspen is currently in training and arrived with her sister in 2018. The sisters are named in memory of CRC's amazing flight Barn Owl, Willow. Once they are trained, Poplar and Aspen will join our flight or our programming teams, so keep an eye out for their big debut!

  • Fun Facts & Other Interesting Information

    Barn Owls are said to be the origin of ghost myths. Their vocalization is like a scream and their shape in a dark room is ghostlike. BOO, I'm a ghost! AAARGH!

    The Barn Owl, more than all other owls, is heavily associated with superstition and mythology, called the Ghost Owl, Death Owl, or the bird of doom. It is referenced in superstition, and in ghost and Halloween stories. Barn Owls also are featured prominently in literature and art, most recently in the Harry Potter stories by J. K. Rowling that portrayed owls as messengers for the witches and wizards of Hogwarts.