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Kidadl Team

SEPTEMBER 10, 2021

15 European Barn Owl Facts You’ll Never Forget

European barn owl facts for kids are educational!

There are about a total of 216 species of owls, out of which 200 belong in the typical owl family and the rest 16 in the barn owl family. The European barn owl (Tyto alba) is a cavity nester and is attracted to human-made structures as well as to nest boxes. European barn owls are known for their ghostly white plumage, haunting shrieks, and distinctive heart-shaped faces. These nocturnal birds are easily found in farmland across the UK, foraging small mammals.

European barn owls are birds of prey, hunting rodent pests. The European barn owl is a medium-sized bird and it is homogeneously brown with a clear white underside and its unique heart-sized facial disc hiding its ears. Both the males and females are similar in appearance.

European barn owls are one of the most well-known species due to their vast habitat range and you might spot these owls flying in the night sky if you are a patient and experienced avid birdwatcher!

For more relatable content, check out these barn owl and North American barn owl facts for kids.

European Barn Owl Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a European barn owl?

The European barn owl (Tyto alba) usually hunts when it is dark during dusk and dawn. It has occasionally been found occasionally hunting during the daytime.

European barn owls use their unusual acute hearing ability to capture their prey in complete darkness as it flies low to the ground, gliding silently forth and back over open habitation. The heart-shaped face leads high-frequency sounds to its ears, which are located at moderately different heights, conceding it to pinpoint its prey. Once the prey is located, this owl hovers overhead then swoops down, grabs the prey with its talons, and consumes it whole. 

What class of animal does a European barn owl belong to?

The European barn owl (Tyto alba) belongs to the Aves class of animals. The Aves class consists solely of birds and belongs to the family of Ardeidae.

How many European barn owls are there in the world?

European barn owl populations are estimated to be 4,000 pairs in the UK and 110-220,000 pairs in the whole of Europe.

Where does a European barn owl live?

The common barn owl is found mostly in grasslands, farmland, and inland wetland areas. They are often spotted hunting in the open countryside along riverbanks, roadside verges, and field edges.

European barn owls range globally. These barn owls are widely distributed in the UK, although they are absent from the Scottish Highlands and under threat in Northern Ireland.

What is a European barn owl's habitat?

European barn owls are found in dense forests, with higher altitudes ranging from 2460-8202 ft (750-2500 m). The European barn owl nest is mostly built by its own pellets on high tree cavities, holes in the trees, and forked trunks.

Who do European barn owls live with?

European barn owls are solitary in nature and only interact with their mates and young ones. These owls settle into a home range where they spend the rest of their lives.

How long does a European barn owl live?

The average lifespan of a wild barn owl (Tyto alba) is four years once they reach adulthood, but it can be cut short if they fall prey to larger predators or succumb to parasitic diseases. These are common causes of death. In Britain, they have been recorded to live up to 15 years.

How do they reproduce?

European barn owl pairs mate for life and usually spawn once a year. The breeding season starts in the late winters until the spring. The pairs perform a small pairing ritual by mutual cheek rubbing and preening, after which the pairs occupy their brooding nest site near old farm buildings, nest boxes, and tree cavities. This owl species does not build a nest for laying eggs. They lay their eggs on the compressed layers of shredded pellets and hard surfaces such as wood and stone above the ground level.

The female lays four to seven eggs over a period of 21 days and the incubation period is 31-32 days. The eggs hatch in the sequence in which they were laid. Both parents share responsibility towards the owlets. Once incubation starts, the male brings the food to the female and it keeps providing food to their spawns until they are around three to four weeks old. Once the young owlets are able to keep themselves warm and do not need the support of their mother, the female starts to contribute to hunting duties.

What is their conservation status?

As per the IUCN Red List, European barn owls are listed as a Least Concern species, though the European barn owl population drastically declined in the 1900s due to the changes in farming practices, loss of habitat range, and reduction in the population of small mammals that were a major component of the European barn owl's diet. These owls play a major role in the environment as breeding barn owls help control rodent pests.

European Barn Owl Fun Facts

What do European barn owls look like?

European barn owls have broad, long, rounded wings, and a short tail with sharp talons. This bird has a smoothly rounded head with no ear tufts and a medium-length hooked beak. The most distinctive feature of this bird is its heart-shaped white face and dark eyes. The European barn owl has a mottled gray and buffed back with a white underside plumage.

Both males and females are similar in appearance and it is impossible to differentiate from each other. After taking a closer look, female barn owls appear to have dark brown feathers around the rim of their facial disc and dark bars on their tail with small black spots on the underside of the wings and chest.

Facts about the European barn owl are amusing.

How cute are they?

Like most other species of owls, the European barn owl is beautiful to look at and is elegant in nature. These owls can be called cute due to their shade of color and pretty plumage. Owlets are even cuter!

How do they communicate?

Unlike other owls, the European barn owl hisses, purrs, and screeches. Their uncanny screeches are usually heard in flights near their nest sites.

These birds make lots of purring noises when the female asks for food and when the male shows off his nest. They use the hissing noise mainly as a distress call to warn off predators.

How big is a European barn owl?

European barn owls are considered to be medium-sized species in the UK. Adults can grow up to 12.9-15.3 in (33-39 cm) in length and 33.4-37.4 in (80-95 cm) in wingspan. Females are larger and heavier than males, exhibiting reserve sexual dimorphism.

These owls are rather large compared to other species of owls like the whiskered screech-owl and the northern saw-whet owl.

How fast can a European barn owl fly?

No accurate data is available on the exact speed of these birds but they fly up to 1,500 ha (15 sq km) within the range of their habitat in search of food.

How much does a European barn owl weigh?

An adult owl weighs up to 8.8-12.3 oz (250-350 g), with the females being slightly larger than males. European barn owls are medium-size species of owls and are much heavier than the flammulated owl and lighter than the larger rufous owl.

What are the male and female names of the species?

At present, no particular names have been assigned to the different sexes of this species of owl but a group of owls is called a parliament.

What would you call a baby European barn owl?

Baby European barn owl chicks are called owlets. They are born naked and develop fluffy white plumage similar to adults by about 10 weeks old and start making short flights. While they are learning to fly and hunt, they receive food from their parents.

What do they eat?

Owls are nocturnal in nature and spend their time roosting during the day and foraging for food during the night. Their diet consists of small rodents such as voles, shrews, and mice. They also prey on bats, amphibians, small birds, and invertebrates.

Are they dangerous?

No, they are not dangerous at all. These birds are usually docile and will not attack until provoked.

Would they make a good pet?

No, you can not keep these owls as pets because it is illegal to keep these animals as pets.

Did you know...

According to British mythology, the barn owl was also known as the church owl, demon owl, and ghost owl, as people have often seen these birds silently glide across churchyards, making unsettling hisses and shrieks.

Roads, motorways, and dual carriageways are a major cause of the decline in the population of European barn owls. Every year, a quarter of young barn owls are killed, mostly when the young owlets leave the nest in search of new nesting sites.

A European barn owl’s pellet is large which measures up to 1.1-2.7 in (3-7 cm) in length, and is rounded and smooth.

A group of owls is called a parliament!

The smallest owl found in the world is the elf owl with an average body length of 5-6 in (12.7-15.2 cm).

What is the European barn owl's call?

European barn owls do not hoot as most other owl species do, instead, they make a harsh, long scream lasting for about two to four seconds. The screeching is mostly made by the male who often calls repeatedly from the air.

Where can you see a European barn owl in the UK? 

European barn owls are observed year-round in the UK. In the UK, these owls are widely distributed, however they are under threat in Northern Ireland and totally absent in Scottish Highlands. The best time to see these owls is dusk during winter or during the hunt for prey.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other birds from our red bird of paradise facts and cardinal bird facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable spoonbill bird coloring pages.

Second image by Carlos Delgado

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