Average lifespan: 4 years
When to seeJanuary to December
AboutPerhaps our most familiar owl, the barn owl will sometimes hunt in the daytime and can be seen 'quartering' over farmland and grassland looking for its next small-mammal meal. However, it is perfectly adapted to hunt with deadly precision in the dark of night: combined with their stealthy and silent flight, their heart-shaped faces direct high-frequency sounds, enabling them to find mice and voles in the vegetation.
How to identifyThe barn owl has a mottled silver-grey and buff back, and a pure white underside. It has a distinctive heart-shaped, white face, and black eyes.
In our area
Barn owls are under serious threat in Northern Ireland with fewer than 50 breeding pairs estimated to be left and only a few known active nest sites. Once a familiar sight, this iconic bird has declined drastically, estimates suggest by as much as 60% since the 1930s. It is now one of our rarest and most endangered birds, red-listed on the Irish Birds of Conservation Concern and protected under the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985. Nest sites are protected all year round even if they are not in use.
Although nocturnal in Northern Ireland, on still moonlit evenings you might be able to spot a barn owl hunting over field edges and roadside verges for its next meal. Best places to see them include the Lough Neagh basin, south Down, the Ards Peninsula and the shores of Lough Foyle. Barn owls rely almost exclusively on small mammals, such as house mice and wood mice, given the absence of voles here, making them a great friend to farmers and homeowners alike.