• Barn Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Boreal Owl
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Eastern Screech Owl
    Eastern Screech
  • Elf Owl
  • Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
    Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
  • Flammulated Owl
  • Great Grey Owl
    Great Grey
  • Great Horned Owl
    Great Horned
  • Long Eared Owl
  • Northern Hawk Owl
    Northern Hawk
  • Northern Pygmy Owl
    Northern Pygmy
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
    Northern Saw-whet
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Snowy Owl
  • Spotted Owl
  • Western Screech Owl
    Western Screech
  • Western Screech Owl
    Whiskered Screech Owl

BARN OWL (Tyto alba)

Barn OwlThis owl is in a class of its own, literally! Or to be more precise, the Barn Owl is in a family of its own. Not only does the Barn Owl look different than other owls, due to its heart-shaped face, short tail, and small eyes, it is actually classified in a different group than all other North American owls. When scientists classify plant and animal species, they use a system called taxonomy, grouping species with similar characteristics into the same family. Most of the North American owl species are grouped together in a family called Strigidae,  a.k.a. the  “typical owls”. Barn Owls, however, belong to a family called Tytonidae, which comes from the Greek word tuto, which means, “night owl”.  While many people think that all owls are nocturnal, many are actually diurnal or crepuscular, meaning that they may be active at any time of day, though most likely the hours around dawn and dusk. Barn Owls, on the other hand, are strictly nocturnal, earning them the nicknames Night Owl, Ghost Owl, and even Death Owl. But don’t be fooled. The only death this large, ghostly white owl will be causing is to the rodents that scamper about barns and other old buildings. You can thank a Barn Owl for keeping your barn rodent free!

Maps provided by The Birds of North America Online and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

  • A medium-sized white to light brown owl with heart-shaped face, long ivory to pinkish colored beak, and relatively small (compared to other owls), dark eyes

    Males: great variety in plumage (feather coloring), chest and belly range in color from white to buff to light brown; back is usually rusty brown with some barring and spotting

    Females: often darker plumage than males

    Young: white to pale gray or buff (similar to adults)
  • Height: Males 38 cm (15 in), Females 38 cm (15 in)

    Weight: Males 475g (1.0 lbs), Females 566 g (1.2 lbs)

    Wingspan: Males 290-349 cm (114-137 in), Females 328-358 cm (129-141 in)
  • Range: in North America found in parts of British Columbia, most of the U.S., and into Mexico and the Caribbean, worldwide found…?

    Habitat: diverse habitats; prefers open land with some trees, roosts and nests in barns, buildings, cliffs, and trees

  • Almost exclusively small mammals like voles, mice, and rats; occasionally birds; rarely reptiles, amphibians, and arthropods
  • A wide range of calls during breeding: screeching, wheezing, purring, snoring, twittering, hissing, and yelping

    Males: typical call is a hoarse, eerie sounding hissing screech: “shreeeee, shreeeee”

    Females: usually lower-pitched

  • Nest Site: usually a cavity nester; also nests in cliffs, banks, caves, buildings, nestboxes, or abandoned nests of other birds

    Eggs: usually 4-7 (sometimes up to 16) dull-white, elongated eggs, laid asynchronously every 2-3 days

    Incubation: 29-35 days
  • Typically nocturnal; hunts mostly by low quartering flight over open habitats, occasionally from perch.  Detects prey using excellent hearing and low-light vision.

Barn Owl Range Map

Barn Owl Range Map

Barn Owl Audio

Barn Owl Facts

Other Names: Barn Owl, Cave Owl, Death Owl, Ghost Owl, Golden Owl, Monkey-faced Owl, Night Owl, Screech Owl, Silver Owl, White Owl
Family: Tytonidae
Closest Relative: Common Barn Owl

Conservation Status

Not globally threatened; decline in many areas.


Learn more about ORI's research on this species.