Lee Richardson Zoo

Common Barn Owl

AKA: Ghost owl, Phantom owl, Church owl, Goblin owl, Monkey faced owl

Order:  Strigiformes
Family:  Tytonidae

Scientific name:  Tyto alba


Description:  Medium size, long-legged owl with distinctive large, heart shaped face.  Golden-buff above, with variable light greyish “veil”, and finely streaked, mottled and dotted dark; white facial disc and under parts, sometimes with pale buff on sides of chest or fine spotting on breast and flanks; legs densely feathered; eyes dark; Broad, fairly pointed wings.  Body length 16”, wing span 42”, weight 1 lb.  Females are larger and darker than males. 


Home Range:  Found worldwide.  Does not extend as far north as other medium sized owls in North America and Europe, nor does it ascend as high into the mountains.  Appears to be a subtropical and tropical species.  Range limitations are related to cycles of prolific breeding, food availability, and adverse winter conditions.


Habitat type:  Occurs in great variety of habitats depending on availability of prey.  Hunt in open grasslands and croplands. 


Longevity:  not specified.


Reproductive habits:  Nest most often in an abandoned building, natural cavity in a tree or riverbank, or on flood debris beneath a bridge.  In western Kansas nesting season is recorded from late April through the first part of Oct.  Eggs are laid on the bare substrate or on debris from previous nests at intervals of several days.  Incubation begins with the first egg and the young hatching several days apart.  If food is inadequate, the younger chicks may perish from lack of food.  The dead may be eaten by siblings, but there is no evidence of fratricide.  The male feeds the female while she is incubating and later brings her food to feed the young.  Prey is generally torn into small pieces, but by day 16, the young swallow the prey whole.  The young can fly in 55 days and independent in 76 – 85 days.  Adults may initiate a second brood.  Barn owls appear to be monogamous and are said to mate for life. 


Diet in Wild:  Classified as a “restricted” feeder, preying on small terrestrial rodents of field and marsh such as field mice and meadow voles.  When necessary the barn owl can take birds, lizards, frogs, toads, and large insects.  Other animals may be consumed depending on availability.


Diet in Zoo:  Thawed hopper mice, Bird of Prey Diet, and fasted one day a week.


General InfoOne of the worlds’ most widely distributed landbirds that has a large number of subspecies.  Some may actually be separate species.  In Kansas they are considered a common resident, but there is some evidence of some migratory movement.  Subject to winter mortality if snow cover of 3 in. lasts more than two weeks and rodents are scarce.  One of the few birds that possess ear pinna, they have excellent hearing, and experiments show they can catch their prey in complete darkness.  They hunt primarily over open country and near farm buildings.  Their flight is silent and enables them to drop on their prey without being noticed.  They are called monkey-face owl because of their heart-shaped facial disk.  Although usually silent, they will do bill clacking and hissing when disturbed and utter a loud shriek or screech that is believed to be a territorial call.


Predators:  None specified.


Conservation status:  Has an extremely large range and large population size.  For these reasons IUCN Red List has evaluated  the species as Least Concern; CITES Appendix ll.




Birds in Kansas, Vol 1. Max C. Thompson, Charles Ely. 1989. University of Kansas Press. Lawrence. KS. Pg 327.


Birds of Kansas. Max C. Thompson, Charles A. Ely, Bob Gress, etal. 2011. University Press of Kansas. Lawrence. KS Pg. 219.


IUCN Red List of Threatened Species


Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol 5. Barn-owls to Hummingbirds. 1999. J. Del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal. Eds. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Pgs 35,36, 38.


Owls of the Northern Hemisphere, Karel H. Voous. 1988. The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA. Pgs.18,21.


The Sibley Guide to Birds, National Audubon Society. David Allen Sibley. 2000. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. Pg. 272.