Barn Owls: Habitat, Diet, Calls, and other Facts

Barn Owls: Habitat, Diet, Calls, and other Facts

Our neighborhood barn owls are everyone’s neighbor, living on every continent besides Antarctica. Known for their white, heart-shaped faces and screech-like call, there is only one species of barn owl around the world, separated into 28 official subspecies. Here in North America, the barn owl can be found throughout most of the United States, Mexico, and the nearby islands, but become rarer to the north approaching Canada where the weather is too chilly for their light, bark-colored coats.

Barn Owl Habitat

The barn owl’s habitat is almost as vast and varied as our own. Although barn owls can be found all around the world, no single barn owl travels far from home. Barn owls are non-migratory birds that prefer mild climates, and can be found anywhere from the suburbs to farmland to the woods. 

Like most owl species, barn owls don’t build their own nests, and prefer to find shelter above the ground. An empty hollow in a tree, a hiding spot in the roof of a house, or a nesting box is the perfect place for an owl to take a daytime nap, or raise a family. Barn owls mate for life, meaning they find a home and raise multiple broods of owlets together. You can help owls start a family (and keep the rodent population down) by building an owl house in your backyard.

Barn Owl Diet

Like the vast majority of owls, barn owls are nocturnal carnivores. Their prey of choice is small mammals such as voles, rats, squirrels, and gophers. Barn owls rely mostly on their hearing during the hunt: their left ear is just slightly higher on the side of their head than the right, enabling 3D hearing. Scientists theorize that barn owls memorize their surroundings during the day in order to better navigate during their nighttime hunts. 

Barn owls swallow their prey whole, then store their food in the gizzard which separates the digestible parts from the leftovers. Barn owls then regurgitate their prey’s bones and fur in the shape of a pellet. Scientists study these pellets in order to learn about the health of local owls and the mammals they have caught. You can begin your own owl study from home by ordering owl pellets, bone sorting kits, and other learning materials.

Barn Owl Calls

screeching barn owl

The most common barn owl call to hear is a long, raspy screech. In fact, if you hear the sound of a screeching owl in your backyard, it’s very likely that a barn owl, not a different species, is somewhere nearby. Despite their name, screech owls are more famous for a quick-tempo hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo. Barn owls do have distinct calls that they share on special occasions. For example, the male barn owl calls to female owls with a high-pitched chirp. When returning to the nest, barn owls may greet their young with a low croak not unlike a frog’s ribbit. 

After dark, if you sit still and listen carefully, you may hear the screeching sound of a barn owl calling out to other nearby animals. Barn owls are one of several types of owls that can be found here in North America. To learn more, browse our Owl FAQ or learn about other owls in your backyard.

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