Barn owl
Tyto alba
ITIS Species Code:   177851         NatureServ Element Code:   ABNSA01010
NatureServe Global Rank: 
NatureServe State (NC) Rank: 
Federal Status: 
NC State Status: 
Southern Blue Ridge:  17 Southern Piedmont:  16 South Atl. Coastal Plain:  17
Land Unit

US Fish & Wildlife Service
US Forest Service
US National Park Service
US Department of Defense
NC State Parks
NC University System
NC Wildlife Res. Com.
NC Forest Service
NC Div. of Coastal Mgmt.
Local Governments
Non-Governmental Org.
Other Public Lands
Private Lands

GAP Status 1-2
All Protected Lands




% of Dist. on
Prot. Lands

12.7 %
16.0 %
30.3 %
6.2 %
5.9 %
4.6 %
16.4 %
2.6 %
0.7 %
2.5 %
2.5 %
1.3 %
< 0.1 %

35.1 %
% of Dist. on
All Lands

0.6 %
0.7 %
1.4 %
0.3 %
0.3 %
0.2 %
0.7 %
0.1 %
< 0.1 %
< 0.1 %
0.1 %
< 0.1 %
95.5 %

1.6 %
Probably breeds throughout the state where suitable habitat is available (Pearson 1959, Adams et al. 1986, Hamel 1992, Simpson 1992), but is perhaps more abundant near the coast (Hamel 1992).

Forages in open and partly open areas with low ground cover such as fields, cemeteries, hedgerows, and pastures, open forest, marshy areas (Adams et al. 1986, Hamel 1992, Nicholson 1997), and young forestry plantations, where it hunts for small mammals (Johnsgard 1988). It is often found in or near towns, where it may nest in man-made structures (Ehrlich et al. 1988);

Barn Owls require fairly large cavities for nesting (Nicholson 1997), although they appear to be adaptable in the types of nest sites they find acceptable (Marti 1988). They have been reported to nest in a variety of cavities and/or protected sites such as: abandoned buildings, belfries (Hamel 1992), tree cavities, cliff crevices, nest boxes (Ehrlich et al.), under-ground burrows, sides of old wells, and abandoned mining shafts (Bent 1938). They may also be found nesting in the steep walls of ravines (Konig 1999).


Fields of dense grass. Open and partly open country (grassland, marsh, lightly grazed pasture, hayfields) in a wide variety of situations, often around human habitation (AOU 1983). Nests in buildings (church steeples, attics, platforms in silos and barns, wooden water tanks, duckblinds), caves, crevices on cliffs, burrows, and hollow trees, rarely in trees with dense foliage (AOU 1983). Caves, cliff crevices, and cut bank burrows are commonly used in the western U.S., rarely in the east. Uses nest boxes (Marti and Wagner 1985). Reproductive success generally is higher in a properly placed and maintained nest box than in a natural nest cavity.

FORAGING HABITAT: Dense grass fields are the chief foraging habitat, including saltmarsh, wet meadows, lightly grazed pastures, grass hayfields, and recently abandoned agricultural fields (Colvin 1980, 1984, 1985; Rosenburg 1986; Gubanyi 1989). Radiotelemetry studies indicate that these habitats are actively selected (Colvin 1984, Rosenburg 1986, Gubanyi 1989). Furthermore, the quantity and quality of dense grass habitats are significantly correlated with nest activity (Colvin and Hegdal 1988).

Other habitats occasionally used include alfalfa/grass (Colvin 1984), small grain (Ault 1971, Rosenburg 1986), fencelines, and roadsides (Ault 1971, Byrd 1982). In an intensively farmed area in eastern Virginia where grass availability was very low, barn owls foraged in small grain, a five-year-old clearcut, barnyards, and a pine (PINUS spp.) plantation used as a blackbird roost (Rosenburg 1986). Cultivated habitats in general are of little importance to the barn owl because of low prey populations and/or dense protective cover (Colvin 1984, Rosenburg 1986).

NESTING HABITAT: This is a cavity-nesting bird which uses natural as well as human-created cavities. Tree cavities are the principal nest site used in most areas of the Northeast (Colvin et al. 1984); those most frequently used are silver maple (ACER SACCHARINUM), American sycamore (PLATANUS OCCIDENTALIS), and white oak (QUERCUS ALBA) (Colvin et al. 1984, Byrd and Rosenburg 1986). Although cut bank burrows and cliff recesses are frequently used in the western U.S. (Otteni et al. 1972, Martin 1973, Rudolph 1978, Millsap and Millsap 1987, Gubanyi 1989), only a few cases of the use of such sites have been reported in the Northeast. R. Ferren (pers. comm.) described barn owl nest holes in the steep bluffs on the north and south ends of Block Island, Rhode Island. Recesses in a clay embankment along the Patuxent River in Maryland supported a breeding pair during the late 1980s (S. Smith, pers. comm.). Exposed barrels in a cut bank along the Rappahannock River of eastern Virginia supported approximately 15 nesting pairs in the late 1970s (S. Doggett, pers. comm.). A wide variety of human-made 'cavities' are used as nest sites. Large platforms within barns and silos, tunnels dug into silage in roofed or topless silos, cavities among hay bales stored inside barns, barn cupola shelves, wooden water tanks, and offshore duckblinds are frequently used; feed bins, church steeples and belfries, platforms within commercial and industrial buildings (e.g., warehouses, grain elevators, mills, factories), attics of abandoned or occupied houses, ledges within chimneys, platforms beneath bridges, and World War II cement watch towers are occasionally used (Stotts 1958, Scott 1959, Reese 1972, Klaas et al. 1978, Soucy 1979, Bunn et al. 1982, Hegdal and Blaskiewicz 1984, Colvin 1984, Byrd and Rosenburg 1986, Matteson and Petersen 1988, Parker and Castrale 1990). In addition, nest boxes are readily used (Otteni et al. 1972, Marti et al. 1979, Soucy 1980, Ziesemer 1980, Colvin et al. 1984, Cook 1985, Schulz 1986, Byrd and Rosenburg 1986, Bendel and Therres 1988, Parker and Castrale 1990).

NON-BREEDING: In winter often roosts in dense conifers; also roosts in nest boxes if available (Marti and Wagner 1985).

Occupied Landcover Map Units:
Code NameDescription NC Natural Heritage Program Equivalent
3 Tidal Marsh Fresh and brackish tidal marshes, including cord grass, wild rice, sawgrass and needlerush alliances. Brackish Marsh, Interdune pond, Maritime wet grassland
124 Maritime Scrubs and Tidal Shrublands Coastal shrubs including wax-myrtle, swamp rose, alder, yaupon, and greenbriar. Maritime Shrubs, Salt Shrub
372 Interdune Herbaceous Wetlands Dune swales with permanently flooded to intermittently exposed hydrology. Species composition depends on salinity and can include cut grass, spike-rush, mosquito fern, and hornwort. Interdune Pond, Maritime Wet Grasslands
371 Maritime Grasslands Dune grass community consisting of sea oats and beach grasses. Dune grass, Maritime dry grassland
121 Maritime Pinelands Loblolly forests and woodlands of the outer coastal plain. Estuarine Fringe Loblolly Pine Forest
380 Coastal Plain Fresh Water Emergent Emergent vegetation in fresh water seepage bogs, ponds and riverbeds of the coastal plain. Includes alliances dominated by sedges, eelgrass, as well as cane found in unforested cane-brakes. Small Depression Pond, Sandhill Seep, Floodplain Pool, Unforested Floodplain Canebrake, Riverscour Prairies, Vernal Pools
173 Coastal Plain Riverbank Shrubs Shrub dominated riverbanks, commonly dominated by willows and/or alders. Sand and Mud Bar
97 Mesic Longleaf Pine Longleaf pine woodlands without a major scrub oak component. Slash or loblolly pines may be present as well. Mesic Pine Flatwoods
42 Xeric Longleaf Pine Sandhills including a range of longleaf pine density from predominantly wiregrass, scrub oak dominated to true longleaf pine woodland. This does not include mesic or saturated flatwood types. Xeric Sandhill Scrub, Pine/Scrub Oak Sandhill, Coastal Fringe Sandhill
46 Xeric Oak - Pine Forests Mixed forest dominated by yellow pines with white or northern red oaks co-dominating. Pine Oak Heath
232 Xeric Pine-Hardwood Woodlands and Forests Mixed forest dominated by yellow pines with drier oaks including southern red, post, and chestnut oaks. Dry Oak Hickory Forest
239 Piedmont/Mountain Emergent Vegetation Emergent vegetation of all wetland hydrologies. Sites would commonly support species such as tussock sedge, rushs, and cattail alliances. Rocky Bar and Shore (in part)
267 Riverbank Shrublands Riverside shrubs with temporarily flooded hydrologies. Found in the both the Mountains and Piedmont. Containing dominants such as smooth alder and a Carolina or black willows. Sand and Mud Bar
269 Floodplain Wet Shrublands Saturated shrublands of the Piedmont, includes buttonbush, swamp-loosestrife, decodon and alders. Piedmont/mountain Semipermanent Impoundment
222 Piedmont Dry-Mesic Pine Forests Loblolly dominated forests resulting from succession following clearing. This type occurs on all moisture regimes following disturbance with the exception of the extremely xeric sites. No equivalent
220 Piedmont Xeric Pine Forests Dry to xeric pine forests dominated by Virginia pine, shortleaf pine or Eastern Red Cedar. Pine Oak Heath
226 Piedmont Xeric Woodlands Generally post and blackjack oak dominated woodlands. White ash and pignut hickory can be found in combination with Eastern red cedar on glades. Xeric Hardpan Forest
20 Coniferous Regeneration Regenerating pine stands. Predominantly loblolly pine, but slash and longleaf stands occur as well. No equivalent
21 Coniferous Cultivated Plantation (natural / planted) Managed pine plantations, densely planted. Most planted stands are loblolly, but slash and longleaf occur as well. No equivalent
36 Successional Deciduous Forests Regenerating deciduous trees with a shrub stature. Commonly dominated by sweetgum, tulip poplars and maples. No equivalent
180 Agricultural Crop Fields Farm fields used for row crops. No equivalent
205 Agricultural Pasture/Hay and Natural Herbaceous Farm fields used for pasture grass or hay production, as well as old fields dominated by native and exotic grasses. No equivalent
202 Residential Urban Includes vegetation interspersed in residential areas. Includes lawns, mixed species woodlots, and horticultural shrubs. Vegetation accounts for between 20 - 70% of the cover. No equivalent
203 Urban Low-Intensity Developed Highly developed areas with vegetation accounting for < 20% of the cover. No equivalent
523 Grassy Bald High Elevation grassy balds including Pennsylvania sedge, mountain oatgrass, as well as shrubby areas dominated by Alleghany and smooth blackberry. Grassy Bald
528 Appalachian Xeric Pine Forest Pine forests and woodlands on xeric sites. A variety of pines, including Virginia, Shortleaf, Eastern White Pine, Table Mountain and Pitch pine. Often small areas of dense pine within a matrix of Xeric Oak-Pine Forests. Pine Oak Heath
View Entire Landcover Legend
Additional Spatial Constraints:
Exclude all area outside of known range.
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Soucy, L. J., Jr. 1980. Nest boxes for raptors:a helpful management technique. New Jersey Audubon 80:18-20.

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Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1992. Birds in jeopardy:the imperiled and extinct birds of the United States and Canada, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 259 pp.

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Simpson MB Jr. 1992. Birds of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press.

Fisher, A.K. 1893. The hawks and owls of the United States in their relation to agriculture. Washington U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Bull. no. 6. 210 pp.

Parker, A. R., and J. S. Castrale. 1990. Barn owl survey and management efforts in 1989. Wildl. Manage. and Res. Notes No. 484. Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Indianapolis, Indiana. 9 pp.

Byrd, M. A., and C. P. Rosenburg. 1986. Barn owl investigations. Pages 56-67 in Virginia Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Investigations, 1986 Annual Report. Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fish., Richmond, Virginia. Unpublished.

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Colvin, B. A. 1980. Feeding strategy and habitat requirements of the barn owl in Ohio. John Carroll University, Cleveland, Ohio. M.S. thesis. 97 pp.

Byrd, C. L. 1982. Home range, habitat and prey utilization of the barn owl in south Texas. Texas A and I University, Kingsville, Texas. M.S. thesis. 64 pp.

Gubanyi, J. A. 1989. Habitat use and diet analysis of breeding common barn-owls in western Nebraska. University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska. M.S. thesis. 86 pp.

Hands, H.M., R.D. Drobney, and M.R. Ryan. 1989. Status of the common barn-owl in the northcentral United States. Missouri Coop. Fish Wildl. Res. Unit Rep. 19 pp.

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Rosenburg, C. 1992. Barn owl, TYTO ALBA. Pages 253-279 in K. J. Schneider and D. M. Pence, editors. Migratory nongame birds of management concern in the Northeast. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, Massachusetts. 400 pp.

Marti, C. D. 1994. Barn owl reproduction:patterns and variation near the limit of the species' distribution. Condor 96:468-484.

Marti, C. D., P. W. Wagner, and K. W. Denne. 1979. Mest boxes for the managment of barn owls. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 7:145-8.

Hamel, P.B. 1992. Cerulean Warbler, DENDROICA CERULEA. Pages 385-400 in K.J. Schneider and D.M. Pence, editors. Migratory nongame birds of management concern in the Northeast. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, Massachusetts. 400 pp.

Rudolph, S. G. 1978. Predation ecology of the coexisting great horned and barn owls. Wilson Bulletin 90:134-7.

Colvin, B. A. 1984. Barn owl foraging behavior and secondary poisoning hazard from rodenticide use on farms. Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio. 326 pp. Ph.D. dissertation.

Gustafson, M. E. 1991. Diet and habitat selection in Ohio nesting barn owls (TYTO ALBA). M.S. thesis, Ohio State Univ. ix + 92 pp.

Taylor, I. 1994. Barn owls:predator-prey relationships and conservation. Cambridge Univ. Press, New York.

Nicholson CP. 1997. Atlas of the breeding birds of Tennessee. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Konig, C., F. Weick and J.H. Becking. 1999. Owls. A guide to the owls of the world. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 462 p.

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Walker, Lewis Wayne. 1974. The book of owls. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York. 255 pp.

Stotts, V. D. 1958. Offshore duck blinds:their use by wildlife and how to improve them for wildlife use. Maryland Conservationist 36:227-36.

Scott, F. R. 1959. Notes on nesting barn owls on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Raven 30:95.

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Rosenburg, C. P. 1986. Barn owl habitat and prey use in agricultural eastern Virginia. College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. M.S. thesis. 114 pp.

Bendel, P. R., and G. D. Therres. 1988. Barn owl nest box use in saltmarsh and offshore habitats. Maryland Forest, Park and Wildlife Service, Program Report No. 1, Wye Mills, Maryland. 11 pp.

Hegdal, P. L., and R. W. Blaskiewicz. 1984. Evaluation of the potential hazard to barn owl of Talon (BRODIFACOUM bait) used to control rats and house mice. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 3:167-79.

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Harrison, H.H. 1979. A field guide to western birds' nests. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 279 pp.

Colvin, B. A. 1985. Common barn owl population decline in Ohio and the relationship to agricultural trends. Journal of Field Ornithology 56:224-35.

Cook, R. P. 1985. Barn-owls coming back to Gateway. Park Sci. 5:20-1.

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Marti, C. D., and P. W. Wagner. 1985. Winter mortality in common barn-owls and its effect on population density and reproduction. Condor 87:111-115.

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Adams, WF, Pke CS III, Webster WD, Parell JF. 1986. Composition of Barn Owl, Tyto alba, pellets from two locations in North Carolina. The Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society. 102(1):16-18.

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Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook:a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Shuster, Inc., New York. xxx + 785 pp.

Millsap, B. A., and P. A. Millsap. 1987. Burrow nesting by common barn-owls in north central Colorado. Condor 89:668-70.

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Otteni, L. C., E. C. Bolen, and C. Cottam. 1972. Predator prey relationships and reproduction of the barn owl in southern Texas. Wilson Bulletin 84:434-8.

Taylor, I. R. 1991. Effects of nest inspections and radiotagging on barn owl breeding success. J. Wildl. Manage. 55:312-315.

Martin, D. J. 1973. Burrow digging by barn owls. Bird-Banding 42:59-60.

10 March 2005
This data was compiled and/or developed by the North Carolina GAP Analysis Project.

For more information please contact them at:
NC-GAP Analysis Project
Dept. of Zoology, NCSU
Campus Box 7617
Raleigh, NC 27695-7617
(919) 513-2853