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Barn Owl

Scientific Name: Tyto alba


Barn owls are medium-sized nocturnal owls averaging 14-20 inches in length with a wingspan of 30 inches. The upper parts are an orange-buff, spotted with dark gray and white, the face and the underparts are white, sometimes speckled with black spots. As with most birds of prey, the females tend to be larger than the males. Main food items are small rodents and birds, but a wide variety of prey, such as bats, frogs, fish and insects, may also be taken. Up to 12 eggs are laid in early spring, with the chicks hatching after a 33-day incubation period.

Barn owls hunt more by sound than by sight, and their ears are the most complex of any owl. Asymmetrically placed on their head, one ear is near the forehead and the other is level with the nostril. Their facial disc also collects, concentrates and directs sound to the ears, allowing the owl to pinpoint the exact location of its prey with its ears alone.


One of the most cosmopolitan of all animal species, the barn owl is found worldwide, from southern Canada to southern Argentina and throughout Europe, Africa, southern Asia and Australia. Habitat includes bush, grassland, forests, fields, including arid and coastal areas. Day-roosting sites include rock fissures, caves, cliffsides, riverbanks, tree cavities, barns, attics, and abandoned mine shafts.

Status in the Wild

The barn owl is still fairly common in the wild, but some populations are decreasing due to the loss of habitat and suitable nesting sites. They are protected by both federal and state law.

Riverbanks Zoo currently houses barn owls in the loft of the Riverbanks Farm barn. Many visitors do not realize the owls are there, so be sure to look up the next time you visit the barn.