Bird Watching

Our owls & griffins – The barn owl

At least since the Harry Potter book and film series, the barn owl has had more and more fans and admirers. But as peaceful as it looks – the barn owl is a nocturnal mouse hunter and is very diligent in its nocturnal hunt. During the day it can be observed at its resting and nesting sites.

Why is the barn owl called that and what does it look like?

The barn owl’s name refers to its distinctive feature. It looks like a veil adorns her face. This is very pronounced and heart-shaped. Depending on the subspecies, the color of the face veil may vary.

Source: Adobe Stock

It has long wings and legs but short tail feathers. In the case of barn owls, the female is slightly larger than the male and slightly darker in colour. The female weighs 400 grams. The male weighs about 300 grams, so falconers can use it to determine the sex of the owl.

Call and cry – What sounds does the barn owl make?

Everyone should be aware that the barn owl is not a songbird that warbles in a wide variety of tones. Rather, their sounds are croaks, but screams and hisses are also part of the barn owl’s call.

Here you can hear the voice of the barn owl:

This is more of a drawn-out scream that keeps increasing in volume. Males make these sounds when defending their territory. The calls of the barn owl can be heard especially at night.

In the next recording you can hear the barn owl nestlings making themselves known:

When threatened and defended against, barn owls can even hiss, occasionally they also rattle their beaks loudly. In this case, the barn owl feels massively threatened. At the same time, they warn other birds with these sounds. This sounds like this:

Barn Owl – Bird of the Year 1977

1977 was the year of the barn owl. Being voted Bird of the Year prompted many people to take action to promote the protection and propagation of the barn owl. Gradually, new breeding grounds were created so that this owl species can settle again. People were also increasingly informed and educated about protective measures that can be taken on site. With the help of the population, the stock, which had been endangered in the meantime, was able to recover significantly.

In recent years, however, many breeding sites have been lost in the course of renovation measures on churches, barns and roofs. Through cooperation with farmers and churches, the population of the barn owl can be maintained.

Where does the barn owl live?

In Europe, barn owls mostly live in the south to south-west. But it can also be found in large parts of Germany, especially in open cultural landscapes.

How many barn owls are there in Germany?

Loud NABU the population in Germany is estimated at around 16,500 to 29,000 breeding territories.

When and where do barn owls breed?

During the breeding season from March to December, the barn owl does not build a nest but lays its eggs directly on the ground. The hatchery is laid out with the so-called “Wölle”. Barn owls prefer to breed in barns, ruins, castles and church towers. With a nest box you can also help the barn owl if there is no suitable place to breed.

Nest box for the barn owl from Schwegler – available from us!

The barn owl breeds once or twice a year and lays about 4-12 white eggs per brood, which are 39 x 32 mm in size. Only the female incubates the eggs, which are laid about two days apart. The male takes care of the food procurement. Because the female barn owl incubates the eggs from the start, the young birds do not hatch one after the other, but a few days apart.

These two young barn owls are only a week apart in age (Victoria /​nist​kas​ten​-online​.de)

enemies of the barn owl

Man is probably the greatest enemy. As mentioned above, barn owl nesting sites have become inaccessible or even removed as a result of building renovations and demolitions. Church towers have been barred since around 1960 to protect the bell ringing systems from bird droppings. Even pigeons should no longer settle there. In modern barns, the so-called Uhlenlöcher have been increasingly omitted, so that no breeding grounds can exist there either.

Agriculture also plays a major role. Due to the increased use of rodenticides (chemicals used to control rodents), the barn owl finds less food. It is feared that the use of these poisons will cause the barn owl to decline again.

In addition, many of the barn owls die from collisions with cars while hunting.

Natural enemies include the marten (mainly as a nest robber), birds of prey and the eagle owl. Covering snow can also be fatal to the barn owl, as it means they can no longer find food and eventually starve.

But in most cases the barn owl can defend itself. If she feels threatened, she splatters her enemy with runny feces and flees. Young and adult birds that are not yet able to fly or can no longer fly threaten their counterparts by spreading their wings. Another way to protect yourself from the opponent is to fall into a kind of shock.

What does the barn owl eat?

(Source: Adobe Stock)

The barn owl is often underestimated because it is an excellent mouse catcher and can thus replace unnecessary chemicals. An adult owl eats up to 6 mice per day, a whole family of owls even up to 50 mice. However, due to the application of rodenticides for field mice, voles and shrews, there is less and less.

The barn owl rarely eats other birds and occasionally amphibians, reptiles and large insects.

Everything that it cannot digest, such as bones and hair, is regurgitated as so-called pellets.

How old do barn owls get?

The barn owl can live up to 22 years. With good care in captivity, an age of 30 years could even be reached.

The profile of the barn owl

  • Scientific name: Tyto Alba
  • Family: barn owls
  • Size: 33-35cm
  • Weight: 290 g (males) – 460 g (females)
  • Wingspan: 85-93 cm
  • Sexual maturity: from the first year of life
  • Number of broods: 1-2 per year
  • Breeding season: March-December
  • Clutch size: 4-12 eggs per brood
  • Incubation period: 33 days
  • Food: small rodents, eg mice
  • Life expectancy: up to 22 years in the wild; 30 years in captivity with good care

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