All about barn owls

Barn Owls at Charlecote

Barn owls are instantly recognisable from their heart shaped faces and distinctive feathers. To help these birds thrive, our rangers monitor the owls throughout their lives in order to understand more about their preferred habitat and lifestyle.

Feeding, flying and breeding 

Barn owls prey on small mammals. Their big eyes are great at seeing in low light and they have specialist hearing which helps them to accurately pin-point their prey. They fly silently and slowly and can appear to hover over the small rodents they hunt. Once they see something, they will give a brief beat of their wings and then drop feet first, thrusting their talons into the vegetation.

They are famous for flying at night and can often be seen at dusk. You might catch one flying in the daytime, particularly when they have young to feed. These owls don’t store much fat so they need to feed quite regularly to avoid going hungry. 

Barn owls normally hatch on average four chicks, but only two or three usually fledge. When fully grown, they have a wingspan of around 110cm and weigh between 470-570g.  Their wings are very long for their body which helps them to fly silently.

Wicken Fen - Barn Owl in flight
Wicken Fen - Barn Owl in flight

Young owlets 

Most barn owls are ringed as nestlings, when they are between three to seven weeks old. By measuring their wing span and looking at the development of their feathers experts can determine the age of an owl chick.

The process of ringing helps to monitor the population and movement of birds, as well as their longevity. It also means that there is more chance of recovery if an owl is sick or injured. 

" Catching a glimpse of a barn owl never fails to lift your spirits - even on the coldest and darkest of winter days."
- Anna Field, Ecologist Ranger at Sherborne Park

Finding a good home

Barn owls are predominantly found in open countryside and farmland, but may also be seen on the fringes of urban areas. Some older buildings (especially old barns) have owl windows, small openings high in the gable end, which give access to the loft space – as owls were once a popular form of pest control. 

Barn owls tend to favour agricultural buildings provided there is suitable surrounding habitat for small mammals, as well as being little disturbed. In many cases, nesting boxes have been successfully installed by our rangers, particularly in modern barns where there are few voids.

As a conservation charity, it's vital that we protect our landscapes, to help conserve one of the most beautiful birds alongside all the other animals that call the countryside home.

Two of our barn owl chicks

Barn owls at Blickling, Norfolk 

The sight of a barn owl flying across the landscape hunting for prey, is something quite spectacular. With thousands of acres to explore, the parkland at Blickling is perfect feeding ground with plenty of nooks to set up home to grow the family.

Barn owls on Orford Ness

Barn owls at Orford Ness, Suffolk 

In the spring the barn owls at Orford Ness are often visible hunting during daylight hours, looking for food to feed hungry young mouths. Why not see if you can spot this ritual on a leisurely walk?

Close up picture of swooping barn owl

Barn owls at Penbryn Beach, Cardigan, Wales 

You might spot a barn owl at dusk along the coast of Penbryn Beach. Their distinctive call, more like a screech, has been heard as the sun falls. Will you be lucky enough to hear it?

Anna Field, National Trust Ranger/Ecologist Sherborne Park

Barn owls at Sherborne Park, Gloucestershire 

The rangers at Sherborne Park look out for lots of wildlife. Anna Field, an Ecologist/Ranger talks more about her passion for conservation, and especially the barn owl population on the estate.

Barn Owls on the Blickling Estate

Barn owls at Stowe, Buckinghamshire 

Barn owl’s nest in and around the buildings at Stowe and can often be seen at dusk when they are leaving their roost. There is also a lot more wildlife to discover on your visit.