Lakeside Nature Center

Critter Corner - Barn Owl
Tyto Alba)


Barn owls do not hoot like many other owls.  Instead, they make a raspy, hissing screech.  Perhaps because they are white with light tan markings and can be easily seen, they do not have to call out to find each other.   Barn owls are in a different taxonomic group from other owls and are distinguished by their heart-shaped, rather than round, faces.


They are living mousetraps.  In fact, each barn owl may eat as many mice each year as three feral house cats.  Yet they only weigh about a pound.  Farmers love having barn owls because they eat the voles and mice that might otherwise eat their crops and from their grain storage areas.  Barn owls hunt at night.  Their incredible hearing allows them to hunt in total darkness.  A mouse squeaking may attract a barn owl one-fourth of a mile away.


Hollow trees provide good nest areas.  Barn owls have adapted to living near people.  Church towers and old barns provide great areas for nesting.  The barn owl mother lays her five to seven eggs without constructing a nest.  She begins incubation after the first egg is laid, so her babies hatch during several days.  The clutch of eggs hatches in 24 to 34 days, resulting in owlets of different ages.  The male owl brings food for the mom and young.


They are found on every continent.  Barn owls can not tolerate extreme cold, so those that nest in the north may migrate south as weather becomes severe.  Open fields with scattered trees are essential to barn owls.  A barn owl family needs an incredible number of mice, voles and shrews to survive.


Sharp talons provide some defense.  Barn owls can be attacked by larger owls and hawks.  Barn owls have little defense against loss of habitat and shortage of nesting sites.




  • Barn owls are also called monkey-faced owls, sweetheart owls (because of their heart-shaped faces) and white owls.

  • Because of their light color, raspy screech and the fact that they often nest in towers, abandoned buildings and even cemeteries, barn owls are sometimes referred to in ghost stories.

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(Photo credits: Portrait of barn owl, Missouri Dept of Conservation; Owl on the ground, US Fish and Wildlife Service; Barn owl babies, US Fish and Wildlife Service; Barn owl with spread wings, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

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