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White-breasted barn owl

Tyto alba alba

White-breasted barn owl

In Northern Ireland the population of barn owls has declined by over 70 percent in the last 50 years. There may be fewer than 50 pairs left in Northern Ireland today.

Although no longer commonly seen, the barn owl is still a well-known bird within Ireland. It plays an important part in the history and folklore of the country as it is believed that the barn owls territorial screech was responsible for the legends of the banshee.

Barns owls nest in ruined or derelict buildings, such as rural barns and, occasionally, hollow cavities in mature trees. The barn owl is mostly white with yellow and tawny markings and has a distinctive heart-shaped face. Barn owls have low-light vision to help them find prey moving in grassland in the dead of night. They also have soft, downy feathers which muffle their movement during flight to allow them to hunt silently.

Belfast Zoo is home to two rescued barn owls, Dawn and Dusk. The pair can be seen at the back of the zoo farm, near the entrance of red squirrel nook. We actively support Bird Watch Ireland’s work with this native species.

Animal class


Diet - Carnivore
Barn owls eat a diet of mice, voles, shrews and other rodents.

The average barn owl can be up to 39 centimetres (cm) long. Their wingspan can be up to 95cm and they can weigh up to 350 grams.

Barn owls prefer open country, such as farmland and coastal marshland and can be found throughout the world, with the exception of Antarctica.

Conservation status
Barn owls are listed under Appendix II of CITES. The IUCN believes that, globally the birds are not in danger of extinction.

The main threats to the barn owl are an increase in framing, resulting in a loss of habitat and a decrease in available prey.

Current Population
It is estimated that there could be less than 50 breeding pairs left in Northern Ireland.

Zoo population
There are around 970 barn owls living in zoos around the world.

Key to acronyms

IUCN - International Union for Conservation of Nature

CITIES - Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

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