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Barn Owl

The Barn Owl is a relatively small owl species (35-45 cm, 450-550 gm) with a heart-shaped facial disc, no ear tufts, dark eyes, a white breast and golden-buff feathers on its back. It hunts at dusk and through the night for mice, voles and shrews in open grassy areas such as old farm fields, wet meadows, tallgrass prairie, and grassed ditch banks and wetland edges. Barn Owls are considered beneficial to farmers - a family of six young and two adults can consume over 1000 mice during one nesting season!

Barn Owls use tree cavities, barns, silos, and abandoned buildings for nest sites. They do not build nests but instead litter the base of their nest cavity with regurgitated pellets consisting of fur and bones from rodent prey they have eaten.

Participating Organizations

Barn Owls are a cosmopolitan species, present on every continent except the Antarctica. Quite abundant in the southern states of the U.S.A., they were probably never very common in Ontario, considered the northern fringe of their range. Historically, Barn Owl populations probably increased along the north shore of Lake Erie with the clearing of forests by European settlers. Early agricultural pursuits in southern Ontario included large pastures and hayfields for livestock, and corn and grain storage silos on farms ? excellent habitat for voles and mice. The species has, however, been slowly declining in this province over the last few decades. This decline is mainly a result of changes in farming practices (large scale corn and soybean monocultures and intensively managed horticultural crops), the loss of habitat such as meadows and wetlands, a decline in prey species and the loss of nesting sites such as cavity trees and old barn structures.

The last Atlas of the Breeding Bird of Ontario (1981-1985) confirmed only four nesting pairs of Barn Owls in Ontario. In 1999 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) upgraded the Ontario population of Barn Owls to "Endangered". Since that time there have been only a handful of confirmed and probable sightings in Ontario (including 2 road killed birds) and no confirmed breeding pairs.

The Ontario Barn Owl Recovery Project

The Ontario Barn Owl Recovery Project was originated in 1997 by a group of people in the Regional Municipality of Haldimand-Norfolk interested in the recovery of the species in Ontario. The Committee has since generated strong community support for the recovery project involving several groups, represented as committee members, partners and financial supporters of the project.

Bird Studies Canada has developed a Recovery Plan for the Barn Owl, which has paved the way for the possible restoration of the species in Ontario, specifically along the north shore of Lake Erie. The recovery plan identifies several measures to increase Ontario's population of Barn Owls to a self-sustaining level. 

These include:

  • Monitoring existing populations of Barn Owls and locating current and potential nesting sites.
  • Establishing and maintaining a nest box and nest box monitoring program.
  • Increasing public awareness and appreciation for Barn Owls, grassland habitat, and the biodiversity these grasslands support
  • Conserving, restoring and enhancing grassland habitat and grassland wildlife corridors in southern Ontario.
  • The future potential for implementing a trial Barn Owl release program.
What Can You Do To Help?
  • Today the committee is recognized by the Recovery of Nationally Endangered Wildlife (RENEW)committee as the official Recovery Team for the Barn Owl in eastern Canada.
  • If you own property within 30 kilometres of the Lake Erie shoreline, which consists primarily of old fields and wetlands, with old wooden barns, silos or abandoned buildings, and/or are willing to monitor Barn Owl nest boxes, please contact us (see below).
  • Report any sightings of Barn Owls or possible nest locations to the OBORP Coordinator or to Bird Studies Canada (see below for contact information).
  • Enhance your rural property by retiring marginal farmlands to create meadow or prairie, which will attract wildlife and increase biodiversity. On active farms create wildlife habitat such as grassed waterways, shelterbelts, riparian buffers and wildlife corridors. Place a Barn Owl box on or in your barn or silo.
  • Help Barn Owl recovery and grassland habitat conservation by making a financial contribution to the Ontario Barn Owl Recovery Project (see below for address).


For more information, to volunteer your land for a nest box, to report Barn Owl sightings, or to make a financial donation, please contact:

Bernie Solymar, Coordinator
Ontario Barn Owl Recovery Project
R.R.#3, Simcoe, ON N3Y 4K2

Kathy Jones
Ontario Volunteer Coordinator
Bird Studies Canada
1-888-448-2473 Ext 124



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