Barn Owl Lifespan: How Long Do Barn Owls Live?

Barn owls are known for their distinctive heart-shaped face and silent flight. A key question often asked about these nocturnal hunters is: “How long do barn owls live?” The lifespan of barn owls varies greatly depending on their environment. In the wild, their life expectancy is influenced by factors such as food availability, weather conditions, and threats from predators. In captivity, where many of these variables are controlled, barn owls can live longer. This article delves into the various aspects that determine how long barn owls live, both in the wild and in captivity.

How Long Do Barn Owls Live in the Wild?

Living in the wild, barn owls face many challenges that affect how long they can survive. On average, barn owls in the wild live for about 4 years, although this can vary. One of the biggest factors that influence their lifespan is the availability of food. These owls mainly eat small mammals like mice and voles. When these creatures are plentiful, barn owls thrive and can live longer.

Weather conditions also play a crucial role. Harsh weather, like extreme cold or heat, can make it hard for barn owls to find food and shelter. During severe winters, many barn owls struggle to survive due to the scarcity of prey. Additionally, young barn owls face a tough start to life. Sadly, about half of them do not survive their first year. This high mortality rate in juveniles significantly affects the average lifespan of barn owls in the wild.

Barn owls also need to watch out for predators and human-made hazards. Predators such as larger birds of prey and wild animals can pose a threat, especially to younger, less experienced owls. Moreover, human activities, like deforestation and urban development, reduce the natural habitats of barn owls, impacting their chances of survival.

How Long Do Barn Owls Live in Captivity?

Barn owls living in captivity often have a longer lifespan compared to their wild counterparts. Under human care, they can live up to 20 years, which is significantly longer than in the wild. This increased lifespan is largely due to the stable environment and consistent food supply provided in captivity. Unlike in the wild, barn owls in captivity don’t have to hunt for food, reducing the stress and energy needed for survival.

In captivity, barn owls are protected from the harsh elements of nature. They don’t face the same challenges as wild barn owls, like extreme weather conditions or scarcity of prey during certain seasons. This stable environment contributes to their longer life. Additionally, the risk of predation is virtually eliminated in captivity. Without the threat of predators, these owls can live a more secure and stress-free life.

Another significant factor is the medical care provided to captive barn owls. Regular check-ups and treatment for illnesses or injuries greatly improve their chances of a longer life. In the wild, an injured or sick owl might not survive, but in captivity, they receive the necessary care to recover.

However, it’s important to note that living in captivity doesn’t automatically guarantee a long life. The quality of care, including the size and enrichment of their living space, plays a crucial role in their overall health and longevity.

How Long Can Barn Owl Go Without Food?

Barn owls, like many birds, have a high metabolism, which means they need to eat frequently. However, their ability to go without food varies depending on several factors such as age and health. Typically, a healthy adult barn owl can survive for up to two weeks without eating, but this is not ideal for their health.

Young barn owls, especially those still dependent on their parents, might struggle to survive for more than a couple of days without food. Their growing bodies require consistent nourishment. On the other hand, adult barn owls, with their established hunting skills, can withstand longer periods of food scarcity. Still, going without food for an extended period can weaken them, making them more susceptible to illness and less able to escape from predators.

The health of a barn owl also significantly impacts its survival without food. A sick or injured owl may not have the strength to survive without regular feeding for very long. In the wild, these situations often lead to a quicker decline in their health and sometimes death if they can’t find food.

Life Cycle of Barn Owl

Birth and Early Development

The life of a barn owl begins as an egg. These eggs, usually laid in a nest in a quiet and hidden place, hatch after about a month. The chicks, known as owlets, are born blind and helpless. They rely entirely on their parents for warmth and food. During the first few weeks, the mother stays with the young while the father hunts and brings food. As they grow, the owlets develop soft, downy feathers. By the time they are about two months old, they are ready to take their first flight, a process called fledging.

Juvenile Stage

Once barn owls have fledged, they enter the juvenile stage. This is a critical time for learning and developing the skills needed for survival. Young barn owls practice flying and hone their hunting skills. Initially, their parents continue to provide food, but gradually, the juveniles start to hunt on their own. This phase is full of trial and error, and not all juveniles successfully master hunting. Those who do, grow stronger and more skilled, preparing for the next stage of their lives.


As barn owls reach adulthood, they become adept hunters, capable of finding and catching their own prey. Adult barn owls are solitary except during the breeding season. They find a mate and often return to the same nesting site year after year. The female lays eggs, and the cycle of nurturing and raising young ones begins anew. Adults also defend their territory from intruders and continue to face challenges like finding enough food and avoiding predators.

The Most Common Causes of Barn Owl Deaths


Starvation is a significant threat to barn owls, particularly in the wild. It can occur when there’s a shortage of prey like mice and voles, which are their main food source. Harsh weather conditions, like long, cold winters, can also make it hard for barn owls to find food, leading to starvation. Young owls, still learning to hunt, are especially vulnerable to this.

Habitat Loss and Degradation

Habitat loss and degradation pose a serious challenge to barn owls. As natural landscapes are transformed for agriculture or urban development, barn owls lose their nesting and hunting grounds. This leads to a decrease in prey availability and safe nesting sites, which are crucial for their survival.

Pesticide Exposure

Pesticides used in farming can harm barn owls indirectly. These chemicals can reduce the number of prey available and can also accumulate in the owls’ bodies if they consume poisoned prey. This accumulation can lead to health problems and even death.

Road Accidents

Road accidents are a growing concern for barn owl populations. As they hunt near roads, especially at night, they can collide with vehicles. These accidents often result in severe injuries or death, contributing significantly to mortality rates in barn owl populations.

Predation Risks

Barn owls face predation risks from various animals. Larger birds of prey, like eagles and hawks, can pose a threat, especially to younger, less experienced owls. On the ground, they must be wary of animals like foxes and wild cats.

Diseases and Parasites

Barn owls are susceptible to various diseases and parasites. These health issues can weaken them, making it difficult to hunt and avoid predators. Common afflictions include respiratory infections and parasites like owls’ fleas and mites. In the wild, without treatment, these diseases and parasites can be fatal.


The lifespan of barn owls is influenced by a variety of factors, both in the wild and in captivity. On average, Barn Owls live around 4 years, however, under human care, they can live up to 20 years (or sometimes even more). Their life in the wild is often much shorter due to challenges like food scarcity, habitat loss, and predators. Understanding these factors is crucial for the conservation of barn owls. By recognizing the threats they face, such as starvation, habitat degradation, pesticide exposure, road accidents, predation risks, and diseases, we can take steps to protect these remarkable birds and ensure their survival for future generations.