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Be a Better Birder Tutorial 2

Barn Owls

Location: Texas

Camera Host: Anonymous

Find more about Weather in Italy, TX

November 14, 2014

No Sign of Barn Owls for 9 Days

We have not seen Mom or Dad visit the nest box for 9 days now. Barn Owls usually select a sheltered location to roost. They like to use an established favored site, which is then used for breeding. However it is likely that other suitable roosts exist in a bird's territory, which may cover up to a kilometer in any direction. This alternative roost site may have been discovered when the young were getting larger and the adults were unable to fit in the nest box. Barn Owls are not known to migrate and there is no evidence of migration established in most studies of marked individuals conducted in North America and Europe. The species remains resident in winter even at northern limits of their breeding range in the western Palearctic and no clear directional movement trends have been documented in Europe. Therefore, both Mom and Dad should be near by, and are likely roosting in a second location within the territory, either together or apart over the fall/winter months. 

November 06, 2014

Dad Returns

We had not seen the male adult Barn Owl since October 30 when he got a scare by something outside the box. However he returned at 7:45PM October 5 and stayed until the morning the following day. Preening and napping Dad appeared at ease in his nest box. 

November 03, 2014

No Owls Seen for 4 Days

We have not seen either the male or female parent visit the nest box since October 30. As we have previously mentioned the male or female can remain the sole occupier of a breeding territory over the fall/ winter months, however they appear to have more than one roosting site and may be choosing to roost in alternative locations at this time. They could still return, but it looks like Mom has certainly moved to a different location to roost, and Dad may return sporadically throughout the late fall and winter. 

November 06, 2014

Dad Returns

We had not seen the male adult Barn Owl since October 30 when he got a scare by something outside the box. However he returned at 7:45PM October 5 and stayed until the morning the following day. Preening and napping Dad appeared at ease in his nest box. 

October 30, 2014

Dad Gets a Scare

In this clip we see that the male adult gets a scare from something outside the box. With the volume turned up you can hear him give a low hissing sound. Adults give a short (0.3-0.4 s), quiet hiss in conjunction with a defensive display when cornered in a nest or roost site. If you look closely you can see the Barn Owl's chest heave inward with each hiss. He may have been disturbed by people walking either through the Pavilion or just outside. There may also be snakes, Coyotes or Raccoons nearby which may have spooked him. He calmed down after a while, the threat possibly passing by. 

October 29, 2014

Coyote Halloween Howls

Our male parent pops his head out of the nest box as the local Coyotes howl nearby. Did you know that the latin name for Coyote is Canis latrans, which actually means "barking dog"? And as we can hear they are certainly living up to their name. This may be a small family group lead by a breeding female.  

July 14

All Three Owlets Leave the Nest Box

The two oldest owls leave the box within a minute of each other 21:08 and 21:09. The youngest takes a little longer and does not leave the box until 23:17. 

July 10

First Owlet Leaves Nest

Departing the nest box just after 11PM the owlet leaves the box for the first time and lands on the roof. See the highlights video for the the whole event. 

May 29

Prey Deliveries Increase

In comparison to previous nights we note an increase in prey deliveries in the early hours of the morning. The male parent delivers 6 small rodents and 1 sparrow to the female parent to feed the young and also feeds the owlets himself with a further 3 small rodents (00:00, 00:33, 00:43, 01:09, 01:34, 02:37, 03:01, 03:20, 03:44 and 4:57AM). The sparrow is consumed whole by one of the owlets. The female parent delivers 2 prey items; a small rodent at 00:40AM and a rat at 01:39AM. The rat is gradually fed to the owlets throughout the morning, however the second oldest owlet attempts to swallow it whole twice. Around 9AM the female parent begins to feed the deceased fourth owlet to the surviving young. 

Barn Owl


Nest Placement

Barn Owls put their nests in holes in trees, cliff ledges and crevices, caves, burrows in river banks, and in many kinds of human structures, including barn lofts, church steeples, houses, nest boxes, haystacks, and even drive-in movie screens.

Nest Description

The female makes a simple nest of her own regurgitated pellets, shredded with her feet and arranged into a cup. Unlike most birds, owls may use their nest sites for roosting throughout the year. Nest sites are often reused from year to year, often by different owls.

Clutch Size

2-18 eggs

Incubation Period

29-34 days

Nestling Period

50-55 days

Egg Description

Dull white, often dirtied by the nest.

Condition at Hatching

Helpless, covered in white down.



Barn Owls eat mostly small mammals, particularly rats, mice, voles, lemmings, and other rodents; also shrews, bats, and rabbits. Most of the prey they eat are active at night, so squirrels and chipmunks are relatively safe from Barn Owls. They occasionally eat birds such as starlings, blackbirds, and meadowlarks. Nesting Barn Owls sometimes store dozens of prey items at the nest site while they are incubating to feed the young once they hatch.

Typical Voice

Barn Owls don’t hoot the way most owls do; instead, they make a long, harsh scream that lasts about 2 seconds. It’s made mostly by the male, who often calls repeatedly from the air. Females give the call infrequently. A softer, more wavering version of this is termed a purring call. Males use it to invite a female to inspect a nest site, and females use it to beg for food from the male. Barn Owls also make a loud, 3-4 second hiss at intruders or predators that disturb the nest.more sounds

See full Species Info at All About Birds

About the Nest

TexasBarnOwl BoxThis Barn Owl box is nestled in the rafters of a large open-air pavilion on a ranch in Texas. Surrounded by grasslands and scrubby forest, the box has been occupied off-and-on by Barn Owls for as long as the landowner can recall. The Cornell Lab previously featured this nest site online from 2005-11, during which time resident owls had 11 nesting attempts, 7 of which successfully fledged at least one nestling. The camera system was updated in 2013, and a pair of owls arrived at the box during the last week of February 2014.

In addition to the Barn Owls, other birds of the open grasslands can be heard vocalizing in the background, including Eastern Phoebes, Tufted Titmice, Eastern Bluebirds, and Western Meadowlarks.

About the Barn Owls

Little is known about the two Barn Owls who have taken up residence in this owl box. In 2013 a pair successfully fledged four young owls from this site and those same adults may have returned again in 2014. During the day the owls rest and preen, leaving to forage as night approaches. Listen for their eerie, raspy vocalizations throughout the day and keep track of their comings and goings throughout the night thanks to the infrared illuminator in the box (don’t worry—the light is invisible to the owls.)

Barn Owls are more sexually dimorphic than other owl species. The female is larger than the male, with a heavily spotted chest and more color on her head and body; in contrast, the male appears very white and pale. She creates the simple nest cup of shredded regurgitated pellets in which she’ll lay an average of 2-18 eggs and the male brings meals of small mammals for her and the nestlings. The female incubates the eggs as soon as they are laid, leading to “hatching asynchrony,” a situation where there are big differences in size between the nestlings based upon the hatch date of each. In years of scarcity, the smallest perish and are sometimes even consumed by their nest mates. Though nest failures such as this are difficult to watch, this strategy enables the parents to produce as many young as conditions allow.

Learn more about Barn Owls in our AllAboutBirds Species Guide.


Thanks to the landowners, who wish to remain anonymous, for allowing us access to this nest and to the property manager for helping to maintain the camera during the season.

Birds of North America Online
Be a Better Birder Tutorial 3