Barn Owl

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Is the Barn Owl right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Common Barn Owl, Monkey-faced Owl

Scientific name: Tyto alba

The basics:
At first glance, their heart-shaped faces and willingness to breed in captivity make Barn Owls one of the most appealing owl species. However, they're relatively inactive and heavily nocturnal, which can make them a disappointing pet or aviary bird.

Barn Owls are provided with significant legal protection in many countries. In the United States, you are unlikely to receive a permit to hold a Barn Owl unless you are a licensed rehabilitator. In the United Kingdom, you may only hold a legally acquired captive-bred Barn Owl. Wherever you live, it's important to make sure that you understand the law before you accept the owl.

The Barn Owl is one of the most widespread bird species in the world. It is found naturally on every continent except Antarctica, in addition to many islands large and small around the world, from Madagascar to the Caribbean. There could be as many as 30 subspecies, although some of these forms may end up being split off to form their own species.

These mid-sized pale owls with white heart-shaped faces and dark eyes seem to be a breed apart from most other owl species.

330 - 400 grams (11.6 - 14.1 oz.)

Average size:
33 - 35 centimeters (13 - 13.8 in.)

12 - 20 years

Behavior / temperament:
A captive-bred handfed imprinted Barn Owl is your best bet for a trainable owl that will show itself to its humans. However, even though such a bird can learn to fly to the hand for treats, it's best to be realistic about this species. They are often relatively inactive during the day and may not display as well in an aviary as a more diurnal species like the Snowy Owl. If you are looking for an action pet or a falconry species, you should probably look elsewhere.

Another problem: Imprinted Barn Owls may behave like babies for their entire lives, which means that they may indulge in persistent shrieking for food, especially at night. This unpleasant behavior is one reason that many owl owners end up abandoning their pets. Be aware of this issue and the potential for night noise before you choose a bird that you may not be able to keep.

Barn Owls need a large roost or pen that includes a perch and a shallow bathing bowl. According to The Barn Owl Trust, this species is often a poor falconry bird that can't be safely flown outdoors. Therefore, you will need plenty of space in its aviary to allow the bird to fly and exercise indoors – even though it may frustrate you that much of the time the bird is relatively inactive and doesn't seem to make full use of the space.

Barn Owls are carnivores that lack a crop. Overfed owls are particularly notorious for producing a vile-smelling vomit, but all owls including Barns will regularly regurgitate undigested pellets that contain such items as bones, fur, claws, teeth, and so on. This process is normal, and to allow the bird's digestive system to perform properly, you must be willing to supply a variety of whole foods such as chicks, mice, Coturnix quail, and rats. Barn Owls are particularly fond of rodents, so make sure you have a good source.

It's a common myth that Barn Owls don't drink water. They drink very little but they should have some available for when the mood strikes.

Written by Elaine Radford


experienced birder, fulfilling pet Owls, freeflight shows, welltrained falconer, beautiful birds


specialist veterinary attention, strong beaks, aviary needs, wild animals, novice birder


positive reinforcement training, fresh beef liver, undigested material

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