Species At Risk

Barn Owl

(Tyto alba)

endangered provincially and nationally

Barn Owl
Barn Owl occurrences map


This distinct looking owl is easily identified by its white heart-shaped face, black eyes, golden colour, pale, lightly speckled under parts, and long legs. Another key feature of the barn owl is that it lacks the “ear tufts” found on other types of owls in Ontario.

The Barn Owl is a mid-sized owl, growing 35 cm-45 cm tall.

While many other owls hoot or whistle, the Barn Owl’s call consists of hisses, screams, cries and other strange noises.

Action we are taking:


The Barn Owl is found on all continents except Antarctica. In Canada, the species breeds only in extreme southern Ontario and British Columbia.

The Barn Owl cannot tolerate severe winter temperatures, and southern Ontario is the northern limit of its range. Breeding sites in Ontario seem to be restricted to areas with the moderating effects of the Great Lakes (within 50 kilometres of the lakes).

The Barn Owl is extirpated (no longer found) in Michigan and has declined in other parts of the northeastern and midwestern parts of the United States. Today, there are fewer than five pairs of Barn Owls in Ontario.


In southern Ontario, this adaptable owl nests and roosts in barns and abandoned buildings. It may also use natural cavities in trees or holes in cliff faces, as it did before the arrival of Europeans in North America. It lives year round at its nest site and hunts for rodents over orchards, and grasslands such as farmlands, fallow fields and meadows.


The Barn Owl needs grassland habitats, and these are being lost to urbanization and changing farm practices. As traditional wooden farm buildings are torn down and replaced by more modern “bird proof” barns, this owl loses suitable nesting sites. Loss of habitat for the Barn Owl’s prey (rodents such as voles) also poses a threat to the owl’s survival. Road mortality is also an issue for these owls, who fly low along roadways at night on the hunt for prey in adjacent grassy areas.


In Ontario, the Barn Owl is protected under the Endangered Species Act. In addition, the Natural Heritage component of the Provincial Policy Statement under the Planning Act provides for the protection of habitat. The Barn Owl also receives protection throughout Canada under the federal Species at Risk Act.

What You Can Do to Help the Barn Owl

  • Barn Owls have been found in artificial structures, such as buildings, silos and nest boxes. A provincial recovery team has erected nest boxes for the Barn Owl. You can volunteer by installing or monitoring these nest boxes in and near grassland areas. For information on nest boxes and the work of the Ontario Barn Owl Recovery Project, visit the Bird Studies Canada website http://www.bsc-eoc.org/regional/barnowl.html The Ministry of Natural Resources is a partner inthe recovery project.
  • Human disturbance during nesting season may force Barn Owls to abandon their nests and their young. If you have Barn Owls on your property, try to minimize any activity or disturbance during the nesting season.
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • There is also a new program geared to eligible farms registered under the Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan to encourage greater protection and conservation of habitat for species at risk.
  • To better understand this species, its habitats and threats to its survival, it is important to understand all we can about them. If you spot a Barn Owl, or a nesting or roosting site, you can report your sighting to the Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC). The NHIC tracks and maintains a database of many of Ontario’s wild species. http://nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca/MNR/nhic/species/species_report.cfm

Did you know?

Barn Owls live only two to four years in the wild and have many predators including raccoons, cats and great horned owls.

Did you know?

Pairs of Barn Owls use the same nest year after year. This trait is known as “site fidelity.”

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.