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Barn Owl: Overview & Identification

July 26, 2022

Barn owls are among probably the most versatile birds. Their adaptability allows them to stay in cities, suburbs, deserts, and forests. Although some have cinnamon-colored and patchy chests, most are gray and cinnamon above and white below. Barn Owls occasionally go on day-long hunts during long winters or when there is a lack of food. Their loping and buoyant flight style is aided by long, rounded wings and short tails. Four or five powerful, resonant hoots from the barn owl, each delivered in a different rhythm by a completely distinct individual. Owl cries are connected to territorial behaviors, courtship, or small children begging.

Related: Learn How to ID Your Favorite Birds

How to ID An Barn Owls

There are four keys to identifying Barn Owls:

1. Size and Shape

This unusual, medium-sized owl has a 15–20-inch peak height. A medium-sized owl with a heart-shaped face and white coloring with black eyes. In low light, Barn Owls may seem unusually pale due to their light underparts. Some have given it the nickname "golden owl" because of the way its light coloring is mixed with black flecks. They fly buoyantly due to their wide, rounded wings.

2. Color Pattern

With buff, golden, and tawny splotches, the Barn Owl's main color is white. The "White Owl" and "Monkey-faced Owl" are two more common names for it. To protect themselves against cold conditions, several owl species have feathered feet. The Barn Owl is not only classified in a separate group from all other North American owls due to its heart-shaped face, short tail, and small eyes, but it also stands apart from other owls in terms of appearance. The Barn Owl belongs to a distinct species; to be more specific, it lives in a separate home. The unusual appearance, color, and sound of the barn owl make it easy to recognize it from other owls.

3. Behavior

Barn Owls occasionally hunt during the day, usually in the same open country areas that Northern Harriers use during long winters or during periods of food scarcity. Nests in caverns, tunnels in river banks, rock ledges and fissures, barn lofts, church steeples, homes, nest boxes, other structures, and dense wood. Because they are nocturnal and solitary, it is difficult to determine the population sizes of barn owls. Partners in Flight assigns them a Continental Concern Score of 9, which indicates a species of low conservation concern, and calculates a worldwide breeding population of 3.6 million.

Hedgerows planted beside highways may help avoid automobile collisions with Barn Owls since they often hunt by flying low over fields. Hunts in rodent-rich habitats, such as desert washes and canyons with plenty of trees for perching. It lacks the hoot of other owls and instead emits a harsh, rasping hiss. It also has long, feathery legs. Pellets are the hair and bones that the owl regurgitates after swallowing its meal whole. Soak an owl pellet in water to find out what's inside. Dry owl pellets can be stored. Gather each insect's bones and fragments one at a time, putting them all on one side for identification. Shrew, vole, and mouse remains are easy to distinguish from one another.

Since the barn owl provides invaluable conservation messaging, we have long sought to incorporate one of these birds into our educational programming. Barn owls play a key role in natural pest control, eating a lot of mice, moles, voles, and other small animals each year. Unfortunately, they are threatened by several human-related factors in the wild, including habitat loss, poisoning, and car crashes.

4. Habitat

The destruction of agricultural land for urban and suburban development and the absence of ideal nesting locations like big, hollow trees and ancient structures put barn owls in danger. They make their homes and roosts in caves in rocks, cracks in bushes, abandoned barns and other structures, and deep woods. Because the wood remains bare during the nesting season, these nests on deciduous trees are easy to spot in the winter. Barn Owls may be impacted by changes to the populations of their prey as a result of improvements to agricultural fields and grasslands. Since rodents make up a significant portion of the barn owls' food, they may be more susceptible to poisons used to combat rodents. Barn owls were impacted by the usage of DDT-related pesticides.

Related: Northern Flicker: ID and Overview

Where to Find Barn Owls

Nests in caves, burrows on river banks, rock ledges and fissures, barn lofts, church steeples, homes, and nest boxes. Because the wood remains bare during the nesting season, these nests on deciduous trees are easy to spot in the winter.

Facts About Barn Owls

Did you know these fun facts about the Barn Owls?

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Related: Bald Eagle: ID and Overview