Copyright: Mark Medcalf


Tyto alba
The lack of spots on the chest of this Barn Owl suggests that this is a male.

One of our best-loved and most recognisable birds, the sight of a ghostly Barn Owl floating past is often someone’s first experience of wild owls. Barn Owl has the title of the most widespread land bird in the world, occurring on all continents except Antarctica, in a huge range of habitats - absent only from polar and desert regions, the highest mountain ranges and some Pacific islands.

The familiar ‘white owl’, Barn Owls are actually golden brown and grey above and white below, with heart-shaped faces and variable amounts of spotting below. The very slightly smaller males are usually almost pure white below whereas females have more spots on their chest.

Although traditionally considered a nocturnal bird, British Barn Owls can often be seen hunting at dusk and dawn. They will even hunt during the day in winter and during the breeding season when they have young to feed. Barn Owls do not hoot but will utter a hiss or screech, often heard near the roost or nest.

Size: 33–35cm; wingspan: 85–93cm.
Status: Resident breeding bird.
Population size: 4,000 pairs.
Conservation status: GREEN (least concern). Removed from AMBER in 2015, due to population rise/stability and increased survival of nests and chicks. Population estimates complicated by its nocturnal habits making it difficult to survey, and by the fact the population can crash after a severe winter but potentially recover within a year or so if weather is ideal and vole abundance high. The large number of chicks produced can also help the population rapidly recover after a poor year. Large fluctuations in populations are frequent.
Lifespan: Short-lived. Average in the wild of 4 years. Adults have a 72% year-to-year survival. Juveniles have less than a 40% chance of surviving their first year. The oldest known wild bird was just over 15 years (ringing recovery) and captive birds can live over 20 years.

Nesting: Barn Owls can breed from 1 year of age and often nest inside farm buildings, tree cavities and sometimes in holes in rock faces or straw stacks. They readily take to artificial nest boxes many of which are provided by Hawk and Owl Trust. 80% of UK Barn Owls are now thought to breed in nest boxes.

Breeding is very dependent on prey numbers; double brooding is not uncommon, and three broods occur when voles are very plentiful. Birds mate for life unless one of the pair is killed, when a new pair bond may be formed. The female does all the incubation, and she and the young chicks are reliant on the male for food before the chicks fledge.

Number of eggs: 4-6
Incubation: 32 days
Fledging time: 53-61 days
Distribution: Barn Owls occur throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland; north of the border it is absent from central, north-east and the far north of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland.

Movements: Non-migratory, British Barn Owls are astonishingly sedentary with the average dispersal of young birds being just 12km from their natal site. Occasional European birds (darker-breasted Tyto alba guttata subspecies) are recorded, especially in south-eastern counties.

Feeding: Barn Owls specialise in hunting animals on the ground and nearly all of their food consists of small mammals which they locate by sound, their hearing being very acute. The Short-tailed Field Vole is the preferred prey species, caught in areas of rough grassland, and can form up to 85% of its diet. Barn Owls will also hunt hedgerows and other habitats where they take Wood Mouse, Bank Vole, shrews and young Brown Rat. Small birds are also occasional prey but daytime hunting owls are at risk of their prey being stolen by other birds of prey, especially Kestrel.


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