At a Glance

With its ghostly appearance, rasping shrieks, and habit of roosting in such places as church belfries, this bird has attracted much superstition. However, it is really a good omen for farmers who find it in their barns, for it preys chiefly on mice and rats. Discovered in its daytime retreat, the Barn Owl bobs its head and weaves back and forth, peering at the intruder. At night it is often heard calling as it flies high over farmland or marshes. One of the most widespread of all landbirds, found on six continents and many islands.
Barn Owls, Owls
Low Concern
Arroyos and Canyons, Coasts and Shorelines, Desert and Arid Habitats, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, Saltwater Wetlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Some remain all winter near northern edges of range, but some (perhaps especially young birds) move long distances southward in fall. A regular October migrant at Cape May, New Jersey.


18" (46 cm). W. 3' 8 (1.1 m). Pale overall, with odd heart-shaped face, dark eyes. Compare to much larger Snowy Owl. Note that downy young owls of other species may be white and make hissing noises.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Brown, Gray, Tan, White
Wing Shape
Broad, Pointed
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Hissing notes, screams, guttural grunts, and bill snapping. Young give rapid grackle-like clicks.
Call Pattern
Flat, Rising, Simple
Call Type


Woodlands, groves, farms, barns, towns, cliffs. Typically in open or semi-open country in lowlands. May nest in forest or city if nearby area has good open foraging territory, such as farmland, marsh, prairie, desert.



Usually 3-8, sometimes 2-12 or even more. Whitish, sometimes becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by female only, 29-34 days; male brings food to female during incubation.


Female remains with young at first and broods them while they are small; male brings food, female feeds it to young. After about 2 weeks, female hunts also. Age of young at first flight roughly 55-65 days. Young return to sleep at nest or nearby for several more weeks. 1-2 broods per year, sometimes 3.

Feeding Behavior

Hunts at night, seldom by day. Seeks prey mostly by flying low over open ground, watching and listening; sometimes hunts by flying down from a perch. Has excellent vision in low light levels, and hearing is so precise that it can strike prey in total darkness.


Mostly rodents. Feeds heavily on voles; also takes various kinds of mice, small rats, shrews, young rabbits, other mammals. Eats very small numbers of birds, lizards, insects, rarely frogs or even fish.


In courtship, male performs display flight, including loud wing-claps; male feeds female. Nest: Uses sites in caves and hollow trees, also many artificial sites such as barn lofts, church steeples, abandoned houses, dry wells, crevices under bridges, nest boxes. Where no existing cavities available, will dig holes in dirt banks. No real nest built, but will arrange debris into crude depression.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

In recent decades, has declined slightly in some regions, drastically in others. Numbers are apparently stable or increasing in a few sites. May be helped in some areas by provision of nest boxes.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Barn Owl. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Barn Owl

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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