Barn owl

Latin Name
Tyto alba




Both male and female barn owls have a speckled, reddish-brown body and white, heart-shaped face. While the male's chest is predominantly white, the female's chest is darker and heavily spotted. The species can approach 18 inches in height, with females being slightly larger than males.



Worldwide. Barn owls can be found in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.


Common worldwide, the barn owl is classified as endangered in Illinois due to the loss of food supply and nesting sites as the result of agriculture.


Plains, deserts, forests, farms and cities.


The barn owl prefers small rodents, but it will occasionally hunt birds as well. A nocturnal species, it hunts at night by using its sharp eyesight and extremely sensitive hearing to locate prey.

Life History

The barn owl's name comes from its habit of nesting in abandoned building. The bird nests in tree hollows as well, where the female lays four–seven eggs. The male brings food to the nest as the female incubates the eggs and cares for chicks.

Special Adaptations
  • The feathers the barn owl uses to fly are serrated at their tips. This muffles the noise the bird makes when it flaps its wings, enabling it to sneak up on prey quietly.
  • The barn owl's sense of hearing is so acute that it can even locate mammals under heavy vegetation or snow. The bird's ears are placed asymmetrically on its head, enabling it to use the differences between each ear's perception of sound to home in on prey.
  • The barn owl's reddish-brown coloration blends in well with trees. This camouflage helps keep the bird from being discovered during the day.
  • The species' strong talons and sharp beak enable it to firmly grasp and tear the mammals and small birds it catches.

Bonus Content

All Eyes...and Ears
Whether they’re spotting prey or seeking a mate, animals depend on these senses to interpret the world around them. We take a peek—and listen in—on some standout features.


ARKive Media

ARKive image - Barn owl nestling and eggs in a nestARKive video - Barn owl - overviewARKive video - Barn owl incubating eggs. Chick hatching. Adult feeding chick

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