10 Incredible Barn Owl Facts

Barn Owl in flight
© Russ Heinl/Shutterstock.com

Written by Volia Schubiger

Updated: August 15, 2023

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The barn owl is a nocturnal species of owl that is widely found all throughout the world. Barn owls, also known as common barn owls, are the most widespread of the owls! You can find these ghoulish creatures in North, Central, and South America, as well as Europe, Africa, Asia, etc.

There is so much to learn about this fascinating bird species. Let’s look at ten fascinating barn owl facts that will leave you amazed!

Discover 10 incredible facts you may not have known about the barn owl.

1. It’s Very Hard To Distinguish Between A Male And Female Barn Owl

barn owls courting in burrow

It can be very challenging to tell a male and female barn owl apart, but surprisingly, the female is a bit larger than the male on average.

©Mike Browne/Shutterstock.com

During their flight, it’s extremely difficult to tell whether the barn owl you’re seeing is a male or a female. The two genders look incredibly similar, but there are still a few distinct differences between them. It is common for female barn owls to weigh in at around 1.3 pounds and reach lengths of anywhere between 13 and 16 inches. Males, on the other hand, will usually weigh about a pound and be about 12 to 14 inches in length.

The females will also possess darker feathers and spots on their bodies and faces, whereas the males will be a tad lighter.

2. Barn Owls Do Not Hoot

Are Owls Mammals

The barn owl doesn’t hoot as most owls do but instead emits a shrill, loud cry lasting approximately two seconds.

©iStock.com/Alan Walker

Barn owls actually make a different set of sounds than some other owls. Most barn owls will actually belt out a loud screech that ranges from 1-2 seconds. Males will usually rely on this call while in flight to find potential partners to invite into their nest. To warn off any predators who may threaten their nests, barn owls not only scream but also hiss.

3. Barn Owls Hunt At Night

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) flying in an apple orchard with autumn colors in the background in Noord Brabant in the Netherlands

Being nocturnal animals, barn owls do most of their hunting at night.

©Henk Bogaard/Shutterstock.com

Since they are nocturnal creatures, barn owls do the majority of their hunting at dusk and dawn. They rely on their absolutely incredible eyesight and hearing to catch their prey. Since their hearing is so precise, they can catch and strike their meal in total darkness. As their eyes are designed to see in low light levels, they are incredibly accurate when hunting. Barn owls have very soft wings, so when they are flying through the air, they don’t make a sound. This allows them to sneak up on prey without them even expecting a thing. 

4. Farmers Love Barn Owls

Most Romantic Animals

Historically, barn owls have been used by farmers as natural pest control.

©iStock.com/Paolino Massimiliano Manuel

These owls are called barn owls because they tend to sleep in barns and hunt near agricultural sites, which provide them with the best hunting grounds. It is beneficial for farmers to have barn owls around because they take care of the rodents that live on their land. Barn owls can consume a rat a day and eat more than their body weight in food! Also, they are more than happy to build their nests within barns, and farmers are more than happy to have them as pest control. It works out well for both parties.

5. Barn Owls Will Swallow Their Prey Whole

What Do Barn Owls Eat
A barn owl will swallow its prey whole and utilize pellets of indigestible material it coughs up for nesting material.

Barn owls possess the incredible ability to swallow their prey whole, this includes the bones, fur, claws, and all. Afterward, they will then begin to cough up pellets that are made up of all the indigestible matter. Pellets are extremely important to barn owls, as they use them to build nests, along with prey fur or feathers, bark, and leaves from trees.

6. A Barn Owls Ears Are At Different Levels Of Its Head

Common Barn owl (Tyto alba) head close up

The ear openings on a barn owl’s head are asymmetrical, with the left ear opening being higher than the right, and the ears face in different directions to help the owl hear without having to turn its head.

©Anan Kaewkhammul/Shutterstock.com

The ear openings on a barn owl’s head are actually asymmetrical! A barn owl’s left ear opening is actually higher than the right and is covered by short dense feathers which frame the ears to allow sound to be amplified. The ears facing different directions help the owl to accurately locate a sound without having to turn its head. A barn owl’s hearing is actually about ten times more sensitive than humans’ and allows it to hear certain frequencies. 

7. Barn Owls Have Long Legs

Magnificent Barn Owl perched on a stump in the forest (Tyto alba)

Barn owls are known for having incredibly long legs.

©Monika Surzin/Shutterstock.com

Barn owls are known for having incredibly long legs. These birds have long, slim legs which aid them in flying. In terms of weight distribution, birds are made perfectly for flying. In other words, their thighs will have larger muscles that they will keep close throughout their flight and extend the slimmer parts of their legs and feet outward.

Barn owls’ feet are their most important tool. Their talons are incredibly sharp and fast, catching prey in almost seconds once they swoop down. They will then either crush or stab their prey with their sharp nails or begin to step and suffocate it. 

8. Barn Owls Can Live Almost Anywhere

Barn owls are listed as endangered in Canada due to loss of habitat and a lack of nesting sites.

©chdwckvnstrsslhm / Creative Commons – Original

The ability of barn owls to live in almost any habitat is one of the main reasons they are so widely distributed across the world. Their adaptability allows them to live in cities, suburbs, deserts, and forests. Generally, they will build their nests in or near safe areas where they know a good supply of prey is available. Barn owls are among the most versatile birds. 

The barn owl, however, is no longer nearly as common in Canada as it once was, being more likely to be found along the coast of British Columbia, south of Vancouver. It has become extremely rare to find them in their previous habitat, southern Ontario. The species is listed as endangered overall in Canada, due to loss of habitat and a lack of nesting sites. The main cause is disappearing grasslands where the birds hunted in the past, but a study found that harsh winters, predation, road mortality, and the use of rodenticides are also factors.

9. Male Barn Owls Fly To Impress Females

Barn Owl in flight

Male barn owls go out of their way to impress females.

©Russ Heinl/Shutterstock.com

Male barn owls will go out of their way to impress females by displaying a variety of different flight patterns. They will try out different flight positions to attract a female and participate in something known as “moth flight.” Moth flight is when a male will hover in front of a female barn owl and dangle his feet. 

10. Barn Owls Are Monogamous 

Animals That Mate for Life: Barn Owl

Barn owls form monogamous pairs, choosing to mate for life.

©Joanne Harris and Daniel Bubnich/Shutterstock.com

Another lovely barn owl fact is that they are known for forming monogamous pairs, meaning a male and female will choose to mate for life. They remain mated each year by using the same nesting sites and performing a number of courtship rituals to ensure they maintain their bond. Despite being mostly monogamous, some barn owls may participate in bigamy as well, with one male having two female partners.

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About the Author

Volia Schubiger is a freelance copywriter and content editor with a passion and expertise in content creation, branding, and marketing. She has a background in Broadcast Journalism & Political Science from CUNY Brooklyn College. When she's not writing she loves traveling, perusing used book stores, and hanging out with her other half.

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