Photo Credit: Carrie Threadgill

Photo Credit: Don Getty


OTHER NAMES:  Monkey faced owl, ghost owl, church owl, and death owl.

STATUS: Breeder. Uncommon to rare in all seasons and regions. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

DESCRIPTION:   The barn owl (Tyto alba) is a medium-sized owl, 15 to 20 inches in height with long, feathered legs.  The owl’s body is primarily white with buff, yellow, and tawny shading, delicately freckled with dark specks.  This owl species has no ear tufts and the face is completely encircled by a heart-shaped tuft of white-colored feathers.  The common barn owl makes a shrieking sound rather than a hoot call.  Different sounding shrieks have unique communication meanings.

DISTRIBUTION:  The barn owl is found on every continent throughout the world except Antarctica.  It has the distinction of being the most widespread land bird in the world.  It is common throughout Alabama and occurs in all 67 counties. 

HABITAT:  The barn owl inhabits abandoned agricultural fields, grain fields, forest openings, and adjacent forest.  The bird must have small mammals in abundant supply and feeding areas open enough for the owl to fly and apprehend prey species.  Adequate nesting sites must be available for the barn owl to inhabit an area.

FEEDING HABITS:  Barn owls feed primarily on small mammals including rats, mice, voles, gophers, and rabbits.  Several species of birds, night-flying beetles, moths, and amphibians are also found in the barn owls’ diet.  Barn owls have keen night vision and special hearing adaptations that aid in locating and capturing their prey in nocturnal settings.  The captured prey species are torn in pieces and eaten entirely – bones, hair, skull, and body.   The indigestible parts are formed into pellets and disgorged at roosting or nesting sites.

LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY:  The barn owl nests in hollow trees, church steeples, grain silos, barn lofts, and on the ground.  Nesting usually occurs in the spring but the barn owl sometimes raises two broods per year.  The female lays five to seven white, spotless eggs per clutch and begins to incubate the first egg immediately.  Eggs hatch 30 to 35 days later.  Eggs laid later subsequently hatch later, so young owlets in the same nest are of different ages and sizes.   The younger owlets are often eaten, trampled or pushed out of the nest by older siblings.  Both parents fervently feed the ravenous young owlets.


Burton, M. and R. 1969.  The International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Volume 2.  Marshall Cavendish Corporation. NY.

Colvin, T. R.  An Owl that Doesn’t Hoot.  Wildlife and the Outdoors.  1988 Alabama Department of Conservation.  Montgomery, AL.

Peterson, R. T.  A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies.  Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.

Scott, S.L.  1983.  Field Guide to the Birds of North America.  National Geographic Society.  Washington, D.C.

AUTHOR:  Thagard R Colvin, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.