The scientific name for barn owl is Tyto alba. They are also referred to as the Common Barn Owl. According to Barn Owls Around the World, there may be 35 subspecies of barn owl. The barn owl is the oldest species of owl at 20-25 million years old.
Barn owls are the most widespread of all owl species and one of the most widespread of all birds, found on every continent except Antarctica and on many islands.
They are a medium-sized owl and depending on the subspecies may be 11 to 17 inches long with a wingspan of 27 to 41 inches. They have large wings and short tails.
The barn owl has such good hearing it can catch mice in complete darkness. To help them locate their prey, their ear openings are asymmetrical with one ear being higher than the other and they are tilted in different directions.
Barn owls fly almost completely silently. Here’s an interesting video by BBC Earth on how owls fly silently.
Barn owls roost and make nests in abandoned barns and other buildings, caves, hollow trees, and other cavities. They will also use nest boxes if provided. They prefer open country like farmland and grassland with some woodland.
Most barn owls are strictly nocturnal. In Britain and some Pacific islands, they may also hunt by day.
Their diet mainly consists of rodents. They eat mice, rats, shrews, voles, small rabbits, and other mammals. They also occasionally eat lizards, birds, and insects. Barn owls eat their prey whole. Once or twice a day, they will cough up pellets which include fur, bones, teeth, and feathers that they cannot digest.
A barn owl may eat one or more rodents per night. Over a year, a pair of owls and their young can eat more than 1000 rodents! This makes owls very beneficial for farmers to help control rodent pest populations. Farmers just need to provide nesting sites for the owls. They control rodents better than poison and are more affordable.
Barn owls usually mate for life unless one of them is killed. They lay on average 3-8 eggs at a time which are incubated by the female for 29-34 days. The female does not hunt during this time and the male brings food to her. After the eggs hatch, the male continues to bring food which the female feeds to the chicks. The young have their first flight at 55-65 days old and may continue to sleep at the nest a few more weeks before going off on their own.
In the wild, barn owls don’t live very long, usually only a couple of years with many dying in the first year of life. In captivity, they may live 20 years or more.
Predators of barn owls include opossums, raccoons, eagles, larger hawks, other owls, buzzards, and other carnivorous animals.
Barn owls do not hoot. Instead, they make a shree scream noise. This is what they sound like: