Barn Owl

Barn Owl

NZ Birds of Prey / Native / Barn Owl

  • Where do barn owls like to live?

    Barn Owls

    The barn owl has been a regular vagrant to New Zealand from Australia for some time but was not recorded breeding in New Zealand until 2008, making this ghostly white predator of the night our newest native bird of prey species.

    The barn owl is one of the most widely distributed land birds in the world. Overseas they occur in open woodland areas with a grassy understory or in open grassland farmland. They nest in cavities in trees, or in ruined buildings. Owing to their habit of feeding on small mammals they are a favourite of farmers and are often encouraged by erecting nest boxes to support their breeding.

    Where can I see a barn owl in New Zealand? The first barn owls were recorded in New Zealand as long ago as the late 1940s and there have been sporadic sightings of barn owls all over the country since. However, most of these were single birds and, failing to find a mate, they died without establishing a breeding population.

    But in 2008 all this changed. A pair of barn owls was located breeding in a large pūriri tree on a farm near Kaitaia in Northland. They are now very widely distributed from Northland to South Auckland. We know of twelve barn owl nests from Kaitaia to the Bombay Hills and Pōkeno, and we continue to monitor their spread.

    What other names does the barn owl have? Scientists call it: Tyto alba delicatula
    Others around the world have many names for the barn owl, including: the ghost owl, church owl, death owl, hissing owl, hobgoblin or hobby owl, golden owl, silver owl, white owl, night owl, rat owl, scritch owl, screech owl, straw owl, barnyard owl and delicate owl.

  • What do barn owls eat?

    Barn Owl

    Barn owls have been recorded feeding mostly on mice and rats in New Zealand, but they have also been found to feed on small farmland birds such as Greenfinch. They probably also take large insects when available.

    How do barn owls hunt? Like morepork, barn owls are able to fly silently and hunt in complete darkness. They hunt either by sitting on a perch and waiting, or by quietly quartering the ground with wings held in a shallow ‘v’ much like a harrier. Amazingly they are able to turn their heads almost all the way around! This removes the need to turn their body on their perch and risk disturbing the prey that they are keenly listening for.

  • when do barn owls breed?

    Barn Owl

    Like in Australia, barn owls appear to breed year round in New Zealand – possibly every four to five months. They can lay up to seven eggs, but to date no more than three chicks have been seen fledging the nest at any one time in New Zealand.

  • What does a barn owl sound like?



    The barn owl makes a distinctive drawn out rasping screech sound that has haunted many a night time traveller and earned them the name “death owl” in some parts of the world!

    Want to learn more about barn owls?
    Then check out our PDF list of key references for more information and come and visit us at the Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre in Rotorua to see these wonderful birds up close and learn about them from our expert staff.