New York Natural Heritage Program
Barn Owl
Tyto alba (Scopoli, 1769)

Identifying Characteristics [-]
Barn Owls are characterized by their whitish, heart-shaped face. The head lacks ear tufts and the eyes are small and dark. Upper plumage is golden-brown with varying amounts of gray. The breast and belly are whitish and can be lightly to heavily speckled with black. Barn Owl body length varies from 30-37 centimeters and their wing span range is 104 to 120 centimeters (NatureServe 2004). Generally, females are larger and heavier than males and are also darker and more speckled, although there are variations in both sexes that can make it difficult to determine the sex of individuals. Juveniles are similar to adults. Young males are more buff on the breast, but lack the heavy speckled appearance of adult females. Molt patterns can be used to determine age until about 36 months (NatureServe 2004). Females lay 5-7 white eggs. Barn Owls rarely vocalize. However, they have up to 15 vocal sounds and two non-vocal sounds have been described (Bunn et al. cited in NatureServe 2004). "B. Colvin (pers. comm.) described the five most frequently heard vocalizations: 1) the "contact call" is a drawn-out screech frequently given in flight when approaching a nest site from a distance; 2) the "alarm call" is an intense screech made in response to human or other disturbance which is typically given at a nest site and only after chicks have hatched; 3) "squeaking/ticking calls" are rapid, high-pitched notes which are associated with pair bond maintenance or distress situations; these calls are commonly produced during courtship, incubation, and first evening flights after chicks have hatched; 4) "snoring" is a greatly varying hiss which is repeated persistently by juveniles in and out of the nest; this call is used for food begging and may be heard at nest sites from sunset to sunrise; and 5) the "defensive hiss" is a very loud and prolonged hiss typically produced by nestlings when disturbed" (NatureServe 2004).
Barn Owl Images
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The Best Time to See
Barn Owls can be found throughout the year in many parts of New York State. However, they are most often found on Long Island and the New York City area during the breeding and non-breeding seasons. Barn Owls are often difficult to locate because they rarely vocalize and are nocturnal.
The time of year you would expect to find Barn Owl breeding (green shading) in New York.
Similar Species
  • Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
    Short-eared Owls have a darker face and underpart, yellow eyes instead of black, and shorter legs. Barn Owls are less streaked. Both species can be found in similar habitats.