By Jeff Kubina (originally posted to Flickr as Barn Owl) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Jeff Kubina (originally posted to Flickr as Barn Owl) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tyto alba
Order: Strigiformes

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

Diet Requirements

  • Barn owls seem to have a higher metabolism than other birds of prey and seem to do well with multple small feeding opportunities each day

Veterinary Concerns

Notes on Enrichment & Training

  • When hand-rearing Barn owl chicks to become program animals, it is strongly encouraged to start feeding them exclusively on the glove as soon as they can stand. This builds a strong association with the gloved hand at an early age and positive reinforcement for standing on it.
  • Birds can be trained to use enrichment devices such as kongs or PVC with food in them.
  • Some birds like to shred paper.
  • At Zoo Atlanta our mews have plexi-glass windows and our barn owl spends the majority of his time perched in front of this window.
  • Diet management for free flight demonstrations should be done with an understanding of the process and considerations. The decision to diet manage should not be taken lightly.

Programmatic Information

Tips on Presentation

  • Barn owls tend to prefer small, enclosed spaces, so although some can make good presentation animals, many individuals may not be comfortable around large groups and in open space without a lot of training.

Tips on Handling

Potential Messaging

  • Teaching about the facial disk

Acquisition Information

Comments from the Rating System

  • Buffalo Zoo: Non-imprinted specimens will be difficult for program use. They tend towards nervousness and they have difficulty adjusting to changes in their environment.
  • Maryland Zoo in Baltimore: Limited handlers.
  • Zoo New England, Stone Zoo: We have had a couple different imprinted birds, with mixed success. These birds can be a challenge, and do require experienced handlers.
  • Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium: Even with imprinted birds, they have still exhibited some nervousness and are a little more challenging than some of the other owl species.

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

  • Barn owls are found throughout the world, and have one of the most widespread ranges of any bird species. They can be found in many different habitats, but prefer open spaces for hunting such as fields and grasslands. They nest in tree cavities, buildings (barns), on rooftops, and will even nest on the ground.

Physical Description

Life Cycle


  • Foot stomping appears to be associated with the breeding season and can make training sessions a challange
  • Head shaking back and forth, as if saying no, seems to be a sign that the bird is uncomfortable

Threats and Conservation Status

  • IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern, is protected at the state level in some states

Prejudices against birds of prey still persist among many who wrongly believe that they harm wildlife or present major threats to domestic animals. Biological studies have documented their ecological importance as major controls on rodent populations. Some birds of prey feed on snakes, insects or other potential pests. No species of raptor poses a significant threat to domestic animals.

Instruct guests to never litter, especially when they are in a car. Throwing trash out along the roads not only makes the roads less attractive, but can also attract animals to the sides of the road. Some of these animals might look appetizing to an owl, hawk, or other predator which are then more likely to be hit by passing vehicles.

Did you know…

  • Barn owls have asymmetrical ears? The owl's facial disk helps to funnel sound into the owl's ears - allowing them to pinpoint sounds not only on a horizontal, but also vertical plane. The left ear is positioned higher than the right, but points downward. The right ear points upward. This "super" hearing gives the Barn owl the ability to hunt in complete darkness!


Picture 080 (2).jpg
Diablo, the Stone Zoo Barn Owl - approx. 6 mo. old

Contributors and Citations

  • Nancy Romanik, Education Program Manager - Zoo New England, Stone Zoo
  • Zoo Atlanta