Facilitating the protection and restoration of species and ecosystems at risk on BC’s South Coast

Length 30-37 cm, Wingspan 104-120 cm. A slender owl with tawny to golden-brown dorsal plumage with varying amounts of gray. Breast and belly plumage ranges from white to buff and is sparsely to heavily speckled with small black spots. The head lacks ear tufts and has relatively small dark eyes and a distinctive heart-shaped, white to buff facial disk. The legs are long and sparsely feathered, wings long and rounded with a short rounded tail. As with many raptors, sexes differ with females being larger and heavier. As well females are darker, and more heavily speckled than males. Owlets are covered in fluffy snow-white down which becomes similar to adult plumage as they mature.


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Global Status: 
Provincial Status: 
SARA Status: 
BC List Status: 
Red (Candidates for- Extirpated, Endangered, or Threatened status)

Similar Species

Barn Owl overlaps in distribution and habitat preferences with several other owls on the South Coast including Short-eared Owl and Barred Owl. In the agricultural and old-field habitats of the South Coast (e.g. Colony Farm Regional Park, Burnaby lowlands, Delta and south Surrey), Barn Owls can be found co-occurring quite extensively with Short-eared Owls. The overall pale, buff/golden coloured plumage with little or no dark spotting or barring, and the white, heart shaped facial disk distinguish Barn Owl from these other species.



Barn Owl (Tyto alba), known occurrence range for the Coast Region Coast Region. Barn Owls occur at the lowest elevations available within their range in British Columbia. On the Coast Region this species is thought to have originated from a central colonization point in the Fraser estuary in the early 1900’s. Mild winters and expanding agricultural land use contributed to its spread through the Fraser Lowlands to Hope from the 1940’s to the 1980’s.


Preferred breeding, foraging and over-wintering areas include fields of dense grass, marsh, lightly grazed pasture and hayfields, often around human habitation. Nesting occurs in buildings (church steeples, attics, platforms in silos and barns, wooden water tanks) as well as caves,crevices on cliffs, burrows, and hollow trees (though rarely in trees with dense foliage). This species will readily exploit nest boxes. Reproductive success generally is higher in a properly placed and maintained nest box than in a natural nest cavity. Intensively cultivated habitats are of less value in general because they support reduced prey species diversity. of low prey populations. Quantity and quality of dense grass habitats are significantly correlated with nest activity. Nests are most often located in man-made structures. The most common nests are on platforms high in old wooden barns. Loss of these features combined with conversion of adjacent foraging areas to greenhouses or urban land uses effects population viability and recovery. Barn Owl expansion into BC is somewhat related to the expansion and clearing of agricultural lands in the early part of the 20th century. This species earns its name from its adaptability to man-made structures associated with these land uses.


Barn Owl are effective predators on introduced and native rodents especially Townsend’s Vole (63-85% of diet). In urban areas introduced species such as Norwegian and Black Rat and House Mouse may provide a surrogate food source. Bird species are taken when small mammals are scarce. This species is dependent on access and availability of key prey sources making them susceptible to starvation during prolonged periods of snow cover.

Life Cycle

Breeding begins in spring, with multiple clutches possible through the summer depending on prey availability and abundance.


Distribution coincides with areas undergoing significant urbanization and natural habitat loss including draining and infilling of wetlands and industrialization/conversion of limited farmland foraging habitats.
Development and fragmentation of habitats inevitably results in lower population numbers which can be exacerbated by severe winters, a significant source of mortality for British Columbia populations.
Vole species, a primary prey species, are also susceptible to large population fluctuations and vulnerable to land use changes and changes to grassland habitats from spread of invasive grass species (e.g. non-native reed canary grass species).
Vehicle collisions and road mortality will likely increase with expanded road and highway development.
The use of rodenticides for the control of rodents in agricultural and urban areas has resulted in direct mortality as well as sub-lethal effects and impacts to prey abundance.

Conservation and Management

Apply conservation and management objectives as set out in provincial recovery plan for the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) in Brtish Columbia (2014). Apply “Best Management Practices for Raptor Conservation during Urban and Rural Land Development in British Columbia”. Investigate complimentary conservation measures as recommended in the “Draft Recovery Strategy for the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) in Ontario”. Assess, inventory and monitor using methodology set out in the RISC standards # 11 Inventory Methods for Raptors (Version 2.0). This species is subject to protections and prohibitions under the Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) as well as the BC Wildlife Act and is Identified Wildlife under the Forest and Range Practices Act. Habitat for this species may also be governed under provincial and federal regulations including the Fish Protection Act and Federal Fisheries Act as well as Regional and local municipal bylaws.


For further information see:


Albert, Courtney A. et al 2009. [Internet]. Anticoagulant Rodenticides in Three Owl Species from Western Canada, 1988–2003. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol DOI 10.1007/s00244-009-9402-z.

B.C. Conservation Data Centre. 2010. [Internet] [Updated February 20 2005]. Conservation Status Report: Tyto alba . B.C. Minist. of Environment.

B.C. Ministry of Environment. 2014. Recovery Plan for the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) in British Columbia. Prepared for the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Victoria, BC. 30 pp.

COSEWIC. 2010. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Barn Owl Tyto alba (Eastern population and Western population) in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlifein Canada. Ottawa. xiv + 34 pp.

Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust. 2006. [Internet]. Demarchi, M.W. and M.D. Bently. 2005. [Internet].Best Management Practices for Raptor Conservation during Urban and Rural Land Development in British Columbia. B.C. Minist. of Environ., Victoria, B.C. MoE BMP Series.

Fraser, D.F., W.L. Harper, S.G. Cannings, and J.M. Cooper. 1999. Rare birds of British Columbia. Wildl. Branch and Resour. Inv. Branch, B.C. Minist. Environ., Lands and Parks, Victoria, BC. 244pp.

Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks Resources Inventory Branch. [Internet].2001. RISC standards # 11 Inventory Methods for Raptors (Version 2.0).

Ontario Barn Owl Recovery Team. 2009. [Internet] Draft Recovery Strategy for the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) in Ontario. Ontario Recovery Strategy Series. Prepared for the Ontario. Ministry of Natural Resources, Peterborough, Ontario. vi + 32 pp.

Proulx, Gilbert et al. 2003. A Field Guide to Species at Risk in the Coast Forest Region of British Columbia. Published by International Forest Products and BC Ministry of Environment. Victoria (BC).

Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia. 2010. [Internet] [Updated October 12 2010]. Barn Owl.


First Edition prepared by: Pamela Zevit, RPBio with --- for the South Coast Conservation Program (SCCP) in partnership with: International Forest Products (Interfor) and Capacity Forestry (CapFor). Original funding for this project was made possible through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative(SFI): http://www.sfiprogram.org/

Content updated by Pamela Zevit April 2017

Every effort has been made to ensure content accuracy. Comments or corrections should be directed to the South Coast Conservation Program: info@sccp.ca. Only images from “creative commons” sources (e.g. Wikipedia, Flickr, U.S. Government) can be used without permission and for non-commercial purposes only. All other images have been contributed for use by the SCCP and its partners/funders only.

Part of the National Conservation Plan, this project was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada. Dans le cadre du Plan de Conservation National, ce projet a été réalisé avec l'appui financier du Gouvernement du Canada.