The Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is a mid-sized owl that grows about 35 cm-45 cm tall. The Barn Owl is easily recognized by its heart-shaped face, big black eyes, golden colour and long legs. The Barn Owl’s call sounds are hisses, cries, screams and other odd noises, whereas other owls hoot or whistle, making it unmistakable when you are in the presence of a Barn Owl.
You would have to be extremely lucky to be in the presence of a Barn Owl because there are less than five pairs of Barn Owls in Ontario. In Michigan the Barn Owl is actually extirpated (no longer found) which is another alarming fact, also part of the reason why the government put it on the endangered species list on June 30, 2008. They have many predators like raccoons, cats and great horned owls and only live two to four years in the wild. The odds are stacked against them as we are now tearing down old farm buildings and replacing them with newer “bird proof” barns in turn losing their normal nesting sites. Pairs of Barn Owls actually use the same nest year after year, this is known as “site fidelity”.
This owl is adaptable and will nest in abandoned buildings, holes in trees or in cliff faces. It lives year round at its nest site and hunts for rodents over orchards, and grasslands such as farmlands, fallow fields and meadows. The Barn Owl needs grassland habitats, and these are being lost to urbanization and changing farm practices. As traditional wooden farm buildings are torn down and replaced by more modern “bird proof” barns, this owl loses suitable nesting sites. Loss of habitat for the Barn Owl’s prey (rodents such as voles) also poses a threat to the owl’s survival. Road mortality is also an issue for these owls, who fly low along roadways at night on the hunt for prey in adjacent grassy areas.
A provincial recovery team has erected nest boxes for the Barn Owl. You can volunteer by installing or monitoring these nest boxes in and near grassland areas. For information on nest boxes and the work of the Ontario Barn Owl Recovery Project, visit the Bird Studies Canada website. The Ministry of Natural Resources is a partner in the recovery project. Human disturbance during nesting season may force Barn Owls to abandon their nests and their young. If you have Barn Owls on your property, try to minimize any activity or disturbance during the nesting season.