Barn Owls have large round heads with white heart-shaped faces and dark eyes. Their wings and back are covered with buff-colored feathers. The feathers on their chests and underneath their wings are white with black or brown speckles. Their legs are long and featherless.
Barn Owls are slim medium-sized owls, measuring 14-20 inches long with a wingspan of 43-47 inches. Barn Owls weigh 1-2 pounds.
- Barn Owls are able to fly in total silence due to their fringed feather tips that break the flow of the air at the trailing edge of their wings.
- Their hooked beaks and sharp talons help them catch their prey, which they can locate in absolute darkness with their exceptional hearing.
- One ear is placed higher on the head than the other, enabling the Barn Owl to sense the direction and distance of a sound.
- Barn Owls, like other owls, also have excellent vision.
Mice, gophers, voles, shrews, small birds, insects, fish and crustaceans make up the diet of the wild Barn Owl. At Cosley Zoo, the Barn Owl receives quail, rats, and mice. Because of their physical limitations, the raptors at Cosley Zoo are not fed live prey.
Barn Owls mate for life. Females lay a clutch of 3-6 eggs. The eggs are laid one at a time every few days over 2 or 3 weeks. Since each egg needs to incubate for 32-34 days before hatching, the hatching of the eggs is also spread out over a 2 or 3-week interval. At about 3 weeks of age, the owlets are able to eat by themselves the food their parents provide. By two months of age, the young are completely independent. Barn Owls raise 2-3 broods per year.
Shelter and space needs
The Barn Owl can be found in trees, abandoned burrows and buildings, and old farm machinery left in fields. Its preferred habitat is temperate forests and grasslands. Barn Owls hunt at night in open areas and fields and cover a large area, sometimes flying up to 3 miles looking for food.
In the wild, Barn Owls have an average life expectancy of 2 years. In captivity, they can live to be 15-18 years old.
Relationship with man
Barn Owls are at the top of the food chain and are considered important components of the ecosystem. They control the pest populations of small animals such as mice. The Barn Owl is currently on the Illinois Threatened Species List. Its status was upgraded to “Threatened” from “Endangered” in 2014.
- Barn Owls have a special toe called a pectinated claw that has ridges and is used for cleaning the birds’ feathers.
- Instead of the “hoot” associated with most owls, the Barn Owl makes a hissing noise.
- Owls don’t chew their food! They swallow it whole or in chunks and regurgitate a pellet containing bones, fur, feathers, and other material they are unable to digest.
- A baby owl is called an owlet.
- Barn Owls have been called “nature’s perfect mousetrap” because of their large appetite. One Barn Owl family of two adults and six owlets can eat more than 1,000 rodents during a three-month period!