Barn Owl: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a Barn Owl?
A: Barn Owls are lean and pale in coloring. They are strictly nocturnal and have a distinctive “heart-shaped” face. They have an eerie, screeching call that is sometimes misidentified as a woman screaming. They are found in most parts of the United States, Mexico, Central America and South America. There are even populations in the Caribbean Islands! Although they have a wide range, their populations are declining due to habitat destruction.

Q: Do they really live in Barns?
Yes, Barn Owls are known for nesting in man-made structures – not just barns, but also in places like grain silos and the eaves of houses.

Q: How many eggs are in a Barn Owl clutch?
Barn Owls in the United States can lay between two and 13 eggs in a clutch! In Virginia, it’s much more likely that a Barn Owl clutch will contain between three and six eggs at a time. Breeding season extends in the fall and winter for Barn Owls in temperate climates, such as Virginia.

Q: Is it normal for Barn Owl hatchlings in a single nest to vary in size?
It can be normal, yes. Barn Owls will have second or even third clutches each year – sometimes before their previous clutch is fully fledged and gone. This means that there may be hatchlings of different ages in a single nest.

Q: What do Barn Owls normally eat in the wild and what will they eat at the Wildlife Center?
Barn Owls feed primarily on rodents in the wild, such as voles, shrews, and mice. Here at the Center, we will provide Barn Owls with dead mice or rats.

Barn Owls have exceptional hearing and eyesight that is well-developed for low-light. Barn Owls are able to differentiate the sounds of prey animals from other noises, and can even locate prey hiding underneath snow or fallen leaves. They are nocturnal hunters, rarely seen during daylight. Our rehabilitation staff will leave the owls’ meals in their enclosure at some point in the afternoon (typically after 3:30) but we are unsure of when they will actually eat.

Q: How can you tell the gender of a Barn Owl?
Female Barn Owls has more patterning on their plumage than males. Females will have darker, spotted chests, while males have paler undersides.

Q: How long do Barn Owls normally live?
Barn Owls can live into their early teens in the wild. The oldest known Barn Owl in the wild was thought to be at least 15 years old.

Q: What other things should we know about Barn Owls?
Because of the owl’s secretive nature and nocturnal habits, Barn Owl populations are difficult to estimate. It is believed, however, that Barn Owl populations are suffering in North America. These owls have suffered greatly from habitat loss; when farmlands or open areas are converted to neighborhoods, the nest sites and hunting grounds of Barn Owls are destroyed. Man-made nest boxes have assisted the Barn Owl’s recovery in areas where natural nests were destroyed.

 Most Barn Owls admitted to the Center are hatchlings admitted due to nest destruction. Because Barn Owls often nest in man-made structures, their nests can be easily disturbed, damaged, or destroyed by human interference – accidental or purposeful.

Other causes of admission for owls at the Center are vehicle collisions and poisoning.

Barn Owls hunting at night may swoop down low over a road when hunting for prey, and an unsuspecting driver may accidentally strike the owl, sometimes causing serious injuries. We can help prevent owls being hit by cars by ensuring that we don’t attract prey animals – such as mice or opossums – to the side of the road by littering.

Avoid the use of rodenticides when dealing with a rodent problem on your property. If a mouse ingests a rodenticide and is then eaten by an owl, the owl can become very ill or die from the poison. If you have a rodent problem, consider alternative methods, such as humane traps or installing a Barn Owl box to encourage a natural predator to take residence! Avoid using “sticky traps” when trying to eliminate rodents. There are many unintended casualties from the use of sticky traps, including birds and reptiles.