Barn Owl Click to enlarge image
barn owl Image: Triker-Sticks
creative commons

Fast Facts

  • Classification
  • Size Range
    28 cm to 39 cm

Subspecies of the Barn Owl are found on every continent in the world except Antarctica.

What do Barn Owls look like?


Barn Owls are moderately common, but generally hard to see, as they are mostly active at night. During the day, the birds roost on concealed tree branches. They are the most widespread and familiar of the owls. Barn Owls are medium sized birds (females slightly larger than males), with a 'heart-shaped' facial disc. They have sandy orange and light grey upperparts and white to cream underparts. Both the back and breast are evenly spotted with black. Birds often appear whiter than normal when illuminated in car headlights or torches. Young birds are similar to adults in plumage. When threatened, the Barn Owl crouches down and spreads its wings.

Tyto alba
A Barn Owl is pictured standing on a tree log at night. The picture is from a close, front-view and its illuminated colouring is visible to the viewer. One wing is partly opened, showing its all-white feathers underneath, whilst the other is almost closed, showing the spotted-white brown and black feathers on the top. Its underbelly is white with black spots, whilst its legs and face are all-white. Its white face has a brown, heart-shaped ring around it. The owl has a brown, narrow beak and brown feet. Image: Glen Threlfo
© Australian Museum

Where do Barn Owls live?


By day the Barn Owl roosts in hollow logs, caves or dense trees, and is usually seen alone or in pairs. The preferred habitat is open, often arid (dry) country, such as farms, heath and lightly wooded forest.


The Barn Owl is found throughout the world, and the subspecies Tyto alba delicatula occurs in Australia. Within Australia its distribution is limited only by habitat and food availability.

What do Barn Owls eat and how do they communicate?

Feeding and diet

Barn Owls feed mostly on small mammals, mainly rodents, and birds, but some insects, frogs and lizards are also eaten. One of the more favoured foods is the introduced House Mouse, Mus musculus. Barn Owls hunt in flight, searching for prey on the ground using their exceptional hearing. The heart-shaped structure of the facial disc is unique to these types of owls (Tyto species). The slightest sound waves are channelled toward the ears, allowing the owl to pinpoint prey even in complete darkness.


Barn Owls are generally quiet, the common call being a 12 second rough, hissing screech. Less frequently, birds give whistling and wheezing notes and some snapping and bill clacking during mating and threat displays.

How do Barn Owls mate?

Breeding behaviours

Barn Owls have no definite breeding season. Breeding takes place mostly in response to food availability and often twice per year. The nest is normally a hollow in a tree, but birds sometimes nest in caves or abandoned buildings. The entrance hole is usually 15 to 25 m above the ground, though the nest chamber may be up to 10 m down inside the tree. No nest material is used, except a few old pellets, which are the regurgitated indigestible leftovers of small mammals and other prey.

The pale white eggs are laid at two-day intervals. The female alone incubates the eggs, but both parents care for the young. The young will perch in the vicinity of the nest site and be fed by the adults for a further month or so after leaving the nest.

  • Breeding season

    Any time of year

  • Clutch size

    3 to 6 (rarely, up to 12)

  • Time in nest

    10 days

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  • Pizzey, G. and Knight, F. 1997. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
  • Schodde, R. and Tideman, S.C. (eds) 1990. Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds (2nd Edition). Reader's Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, Sydney.
  • Strahan, R. (ed) 1994. Cuckoos, Nightbirds and Kingfishers of Australia. Angus and Robertson/Australian Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.