Barn Owl Diet: What Do Barn Owls Eat?

Barn owls are fascinating birds known for their distinctive appearance and nocturnal habits. A key aspect of their lives, which often sparks curiosity, is their diet. Understanding what barn owls eat is crucial for appreciating how these birds thrive in their natural habitats. Their diet is not only diverse but also reflects their adaptability to different environments. This article delves into the varied diet of barn owls, shedding light on their eating habits and preferences. By exploring what barn owls consume, we gain insight into their role in the ecosystem and their survival strategies.

What Does a Barn Owl Prey On?

Small Mammals

Barn owls, known for their silent flight and keen hunting skills, primarily feed on small mammals. Mice and voles are a staple in their diet, providing the essential nutrients these owls need for survival. The barn owl’s hunting strategy is perfectly adapted to catching these small creatures. They use their acute hearing to detect the faint rustling of rodents in the underbrush, even in complete darkness. This ability allows them to efficiently locate and capture their prey, which is crucial for their survival, especially during breeding season when they need extra energy. While they prefer open fields and grasslands for hunting, barn owls can also be found in barns and farmyards, where small mammals like rats and shrews are abundant.

Small Mammals Barn Owls Eat Include:

  • Mice
  • Voles
  • Shrews
  • Rats
  • Gophers


In addition to small mammals, barn owls also include birds in their diet, though less frequently. They usually prey on smaller bird species that are easy to catch. This opportunistic feeding behavior occurs especially in areas where their preferred food, small mammals, is scarce. The variety of birds in a barn owl’s diet can vary based on their geographical location and the availability of different bird species. Their ability to adapt their diet based on the availability of prey demonstrates the barn owl’s versatility as a predator.

Birds Barn Owls Eat Include:

  • Sparrows
  • Warblers
  • Starlings
  • Blackbirds


Barn owls, adaptable hunters that they are, also include insects in their diet. This is especially true during specific times of the year or in certain habitats where insects are more plentiful. For instance, during summer months or in warmer climates, insects such as beetles and crickets become a significant part of their diet. These insects provide an important source of nutrition and are often easier to catch than mammals or birds. The inclusion of insects in their diet demonstrates the barn owl’s ability to adjust its feeding habits based on what is available in their environment.

Insects Barn Owls Eat Include:

  • Beetles
  • Crickets
  • Grasshoppers
  • Moths

Amphibians and Reptiles

While less common in their diet compared to mammals and insects, barn owls do occasionally eat amphibians and reptiles. This happens particularly in habitats where these creatures are abundant. Frogs and small lizards, for example, can become a part of their diet in marshy areas or near water bodies. The consumption of these cold-blooded animals shows the barn owl’s flexibility and opportunistic nature in feeding. Although not a primary food source, amphibians and reptiles play a role in diversifying the barn owl’s diet.

Amphibians and Reptiles Barn Owls Eat Include:

  • Frogs
  • Small lizards
  • Newts
  • Snakes

What Do Barn Owls Eat In Captivity?

In captivity, the diet of barn owls differs significantly from their wild counterparts. Caretakers often provide a controlled diet to ensure these owls receive all the necessary nutrients for their health and well-being. A common practice is to feed them a variety of pre-killed prey, such as mice, rats, and small birds. This approach not only simulates their natural hunting behavior but also maintains the nutritional balance they would have in the wild. In addition, some caretakers might supplement their diet with vitamins and minerals to compensate for any dietary deficiencies. The goal in captivity is to mimic their natural diet as closely as possible, ensuring the barn owls remain healthy and active. Attention to diet is crucial in captivity, as it directly impacts the owl’s health, feather condition, and overall vitality.

What Do Barn Owls Eat in the Winter?

During the winter months, the diet of barn owls undergoes a change due to the shift in prey availability and harsher weather conditions. As the temperature drops, many of the small mammals and insects that barn owls typically hunt become less active or hibernate. This scarcity forces the owls to adapt and sometimes expand their diet to include whatever prey is available. In some regions, this might mean an increased reliance on small birds or scavenging for carrion as an alternative food source. Additionally, barn owls may hunt in different areas, like near barns or in open fields, where small mammals are more likely to be found during these colder months. This flexibility in diet is crucial for their survival in winter, as it allows them to maintain their energy levels and stay healthy despite the challenges posed by the season.

What Do Barn Owls Eat the Most?

Barn owls predominantly feed on small mammals, with these forming the bulk of their diet. Mice and voles are particularly favored due to their abundance in many of the owl’s natural habitats. These small mammals are ideal for barn owls as they are the right size for easy hunting and consumption. Moreover, the nutritional value they offer is significant, providing the necessary energy and sustenance for the owls. The preference for these prey items is also linked to the hunting methods of barn owls. Their exceptional hearing and nocturnal vision make them adept at detecting and capturing these small creatures, often found scurrying through underbrush or fields. The abundance and ease of catching these mammals make them the most common and preferred food source for barn owls, playing a crucial role in their dietary habits and overall survival.

How Do Barn Owls Find Food?

Barn owls have evolved exceptional hunting skills and sensory adaptations that make them proficient night hunters. One of their most remarkable abilities is their acute sense of hearing. Their asymmetrical ears are uniquely designed to pinpoint the exact location of their prey, even in complete darkness. This enables them to detect small mammals like mice and voles moving through grass or underbrush.

Additionally, their silent flight is a crucial adaptation for hunting. Their feather structure allows them to glide noiselessly through the air, making them almost undetectable to their prey until it’s too late. The barn owl’s keen vision, especially in low light conditions, further aids in locating prey from a distance.

These adaptations, combined with their stealth and speed, make barn owls formidable nocturnal hunters. Their ability to efficiently locate and capture prey under the cover of night is key to their survival and success as a species.

Final Words

The diet of barn owls is both varied and fascinating, encompassing small mammals, birds, insects, and occasionally amphibians and reptiles. Understanding what barn owls eat is vital for their conservation, as it highlights their role in the ecosystem and their adaptability to different environments. Whether hunting in the wild or being cared for in captivity, their dietary needs are an essential aspect of their survival. This insight into their feeding habits not only deepens our understanding of these remarkable birds but also underscores the importance of preserving their natural habitats for the continued balance of nature.

Barn Owl Diet: What Do Barn Owls Eat? – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How many mice does a Barn Owl eat per day?

A Barn Owl can eat about four to six mice per day. This number can vary based on the owl’s size, age, and energy needs. During breeding season, they might eat more to feed their young.

Do Barn Owls eat chickens?

Barn Owls generally do not eat chickens. They primarily feed on smaller prey like mice and voles. Chickens are usually too large for Barn Owls to hunt and are not a typical part of their diet.

How far away can a Barn Owl hear a mouse?

A Barn Owl can hear a mouse up to 30 meters away. Their hearing is exceptionally sharp, allowing them to detect the faint sounds of their prey. This ability is crucial for hunting, especially at night.