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Fifteen Feathery Facts About Barn Owls!

You won't give a hoot about THESE facts - because barn owls don't hoot! Sound intriguing? You need to read the rest of these fun feathery barn owl facts!

Beano Facts Team
Last Updated:  February 15th 2024

Are you lucky enough to have seen a barn owl? Then you'll already know how special they are! There are two families of owls - true owls, and barn-owls, though when we say "barn owl" we're usually referring to the common barn owl. They're best known for their heart-shaped faces, silent flight, and strange haunting cry - but do you know why their face shape is so useful, why they're so silent, or what folklore says about them? Learn all this and more, right now!

Are you just barmy about birds? You can check out some of our other fabulous feathery facts! Learn all about amazing albatrosses, fantastic flamingos, and phenomenal peacocks!

1. They have a very particular diet

Apologies to any rodent lovers out there, but they're the main diet of the barn owl! Barn owls love to eat voles, shrews, mice and sometimes rats - though rats can get pretty big, so they're a bit more difficult to pick up! They will also eat reptiles, insects, and sometimes other birds!

2. They don't hoot

You might think all owls make a hooting sound, but that's not true! If you hear an owl hooting, it's most likely a tawny owl. Barn owls actually make screeching and hissing noises. It's quite scary when you hear it at night!

3. They live in a lot of places

The barn owl is one of the most widely distributed birds in the whole world! They can be found on every continent except Antarctica (where you won't find a lot of animals of any kind).

4. It's hard to tell the difference between the boys and the girls

That is, if you just see one swooping overhead! It's a bit easier when you can get a close up look at the owls. Females are a tiny bit heavier, weighing in at about 360g on average compared to the males at 330g. Lady barn owls also have darker feathers around their faces and on their tails, and darker spots on their chests. The boys are usually snowy white underneath!

5. They're mostly nocturnal

In almost every place it lives, the barn owl is nocturnal - as in, it only hunts and feeds at night or by twilight. But, in Great Britain and some pacific islands, it also hunts by day! This usually happens when they have a lot of chicks to feed, or when they're having trouble finding food in the winter.

6. There are three types

There are three types of barn owl: the western barn owl (found in Europe, Africa, and western Asia), the eastern barn owl (found in southeast Asia and Australasia), and the American barn owl, found (of course) in the Americas.

7. They have amazing ears

Barn owls use their ears to hunt, and they're very good at it! You can't see a barn owl's ears because they don't stick out like ours. The ears are holes hidden under their feathers just behind their eyes. They don't need the shell-like shapes we have as ears, because their heart-shaped faces act likes a disc that traps and focuses sounds, like our outer ears do. One of their ears is higher than the other, too! This lets the owl hear sounds from above and below, which helps them hunt efficiently!

8. They have long legs

It's hard to believe from just looking at a barn owl, but they're actually quite leggy! Their long legs are usually tucked up under their bodies, and they help them catch prey under long grass and bushes.

9. They swallow their prey whole

Can you imagine eating your entire dinner in one bite, Kirby style? Barn owls do just that! When hunting they will snatch up their prey with their talons, and then hork it down in one go!

10. Their eyes are also pretty good

They don't just hunt using their amazing ears - barn owls also have a spectacular set of peepers! On average their eyes are twice as sensitive to light as ours, so if they are suddenly exposed to very bright light in the dark it might throw them off a little (top tip for any voles or mice reading this). They're also great at spotting movement, even from long distances, but less good at spotting prey sitting completely still (another top rodent tip)!

11. They're very soft

Not that we recommend getting a pet barn owl, but if you did, you might be amazed at how nice it is to stroke them! They have very soft feathers, but there's a practical (and deadly) reason for this. When they're flying they're completely silent, so they can go totally undetected by prey and hear any tiny noises their prey is making. Their foremost wing feathers are also covered in tiny hooks, which silences air hitting the owl's wings as it flies.

12. But they'll stay in when it rains!

Barn owls' silent superpower is totally null when it's wet outside. Their feathers are not very waterproof, unlike some other birds, and in wet weather they're noisier and less efficient.

13. They're ghosts!

Barn owls have a number of nicknames, including "demon owl", "death owl", "ghost owl", and "lich owl" (lich is an old English word for "corpse"). It's easy to see why - they glide silently, they're pale, they have big spooky eyes, and they make a scary shrieking noise! They're harmless to humans of course - in fact, they help keep small animal populations in control, so they're very good for our natural habitat! But there are some myths about them bringing bad luck. In Thailand, it's thought that if a barn owl sits on the roof of a house, the people who live in that house will die. In South Africa they're associated with witchcraft. In India though, barn owls are a bit luckier - they're associated with Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and beauty!

14. They might be aliens?!

Okay, that title is a little misleading, but hear us out! Have you ever heard stories about what aliens are supposed to look like when they visit earth - big, dark eyes, heart-shaped faces, and usually seen at night, often in wooded areas? Some similarities with the humble barn owl, no? Some UFO sceptics have proposed that the barn owl might be the creature sighted by people who think they've seen an alien! One viral video shot in India shows two baby barn owls in an attic, and with their huge eyes, long legs and underdeveloped feathers they do look like spooky aliens! What do you think?

15. They're well camouflaged

Barn owls aren't just silent, they're also hard to spot! Even if a prey animal looked up, they might not see the owl swooping above them, as their pale undersides make them difficult to spot from underneath. They're also hard to spot from above, as their brownish feathers blend into the grassy fields they like to hunt in.