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The Ultimate Guide to the Barn Owl


What is the Barn Owl and what do they look like?

The Barn Owl is the most widespread species of owl and one of the most prevalent of all birds. However there has been a decline in the population of Barn Owls mainly due to the result of reduced food supply, with fewer areas of grassland available for hunting. In addition the amount of road deaths have increased significantly in many areas across the country .

The Barn Owl is a nocturnal bird of prey, however in the winter they extend their hunting hours into daytime to find more food to see them through the colder months.

Barn Owls are famously known for their accurate hunting techniques and silent sneak attacks. They use their exceptional vision to perfectly pinpoint their prey, hidden deep amongst the undergrowth and swiftly and silently glide over the fields until they reach their target, using their superb hearing and sharp talons to snatch up small mammals and rodents in the dead of night.

Barn Owls can be recognised by their distinctive heart shaped face, golden/grey speckled feathers and creamy white underparts. They are a medium sized bird of prey with round wings, a short tail and long legs covered in soft and downy, white feathers.


What do Barn Owls eat?

Barn Owls feed on many kinds of small mammals and rodents, though this is largely dependent on what is available seasonally. Their diet however, most commonly consists of Short tailed voles, brown rats and wood mice hidden among the hedgerows and long grassy fields.

In the winter however, voles and mice tend to stay beneath the snow, eating their stored food. During these times Barn Owls will often search for more unusual kinds of prey, such as small birds.

barn owl resting

Where do Barn Owls live?

Barn owls are the most widespread of all owl species, and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Barn Owls are widely distributed throughout the UK and are most commonly spotted near field edges, rivers and streams, or clearings and grass strips near woodland, as these surroundings are the most suitable hunting grounds and provide them with a plentiful supply of the right kinds of prey.

Barn Owls are generally most active at dawn and dusk during their hunting periods and are commonly spotted as they glide across grassy fields searching for food. It’s almost impossible to spot a Barn Owl late in the daytime though, as this is when they’ll be asleep.


Where do Barn Owls nest?

As their name suggests, Barn Owls have, and still been known to nest in old barns or abandoned rural buildings. However these days, Barn Owls mainly roost in tree hollows and artificial nest boxes. The Barn Owl’s main nesting season starts from March to August.

Barn Owls usually lay between 4 and 6 small white eggs, which will hatch every 2 to 3 days usually in the same order which they were laid. After 10 weeks, when the birds have finally grown enough to no longer be fully dependent on their parents, the fledglings will be pushed out of the nest, and taught how to properly fly and hunt for themselves.

What do Barn Owls sound like?

Unlike the common Tawny owl, the Barn Owl doesn’t hoot but instead makes a haunting screech as it glides like a ghost in the night. It is usual to hear this during a still evening or early dawn, as these are a Barn Owl’s typical hunting hours.

Click to listen to barn owl call


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