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White-breasted barn owl

Tyto alba alba

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. 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.

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.

IUCN red list status

The IUCN status of the white-breasted barn owl is least concern.

The IUCN status of the white-breasted barn owl is least concern.

For more info on classifications visit

Animal class


Conservation status

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




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


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