Family Barn-owls (Tytonidae)

Least Concern

Common Barn-owl (Tyto alba)


French: Effraie des clochers German: Schleiereule Spanish: Lechuza común
Other common names: Australian Barn-owl, Pearly Owl (delicatula group), Boang Barn-owl (crassirostris), Colombian Barn-owl (contempta)

Strix alba


, 1769,

Friuli, Italy


Up to 46 races recognized in recent works, but status and distribution of several uncertain, and review of whole group long overdue. West Indian taxa glaucops, insularis and nigrescens formerly included in present species, now shown to be separate species, T. glaucops; some authors separate only glaucops, retaining other two races in present species. Form delicatula sometimes treated as a full species (with sumbaensis, meeki, crassirostris and interposita as races)#R#R#R; deroepstorffi likewise regarded by some as a full species#R#R#R, and one recent author#R made a further five species (though not without some reservations), i.e. furcata (with pratincola, contempta, hellmayri and tuidara as races), detorta, thomensis, punctatissima and bargei, but differences, e.g. more powerful feet, less compelling than claimed. Considerable variation in size and colour may be more individual than geographical in many continental and some island regions, with possibly expanding zones of intergradation, particularly in Europe. Nominate and guttata intergrade from Netherlands, Belgium and N & E France to Germany (Rhine Valley) and C Switzerland; nominate intergrades with affinis in region of S Egypt and N Sudan. Validity of many proposed races considered too doubtful to be upheld: in Europe, pusilla, kleinschmidti, kirchhoffi and hostilis merged with nominate, and rhenana with guttata; Malagasy hypermetra with African affinis; island populations everetti, kuehni, bellonae, lifuensis and lulu with widespread Australasian delicatula; Bahamian lucayana with pratincola; and, in Neotropics, Colombian subandeana with guatemalae, stictica with contempta, and hauchecornei and zottae with tuidara. Also, current separation of niveicauda from furcata (based on colour characters) and of guatemalae from pratincola (ranges in Central America not yet satisfactorily determined) perhaps doubtful, and continued acceptance of bondi may not be tenable; size and colour variation in Neotropics in need of reassessment, and separation of hellmayri from tuidara based on size characters questionable. Furthermore, poensis possibly not separable from affinis, in which case older name poensis has priority. N African population currently included in nominate is sometimes placed in erlangeri; birds from S Myanmar to Indochina sometimes placed in javanica, but seem better included in stertens. Melanesian populations, currently covered by three races (delicatula, crassirostris, interposita), may merit further splits. Twenty-eight subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • T. a. detorta E. J. O. Hartert, 1913 – Cape Verde Barn-owl – Cape Verde Is.
  • T. a. thomensis (Hartlaub, 1852) – Sao Tome Barn-owl – São Tomé I; reports from Príncipe I erroneous.
  • T. a. schmitzi (E. J. O. Hartert, 1900) – Madeira and Porto Santo.
  • T. a. gracilirostris (E. J. O. Hartert, 1905) – E Canary Is (Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Lobos, Montaña Clara, Alegranza).
  • T. a. poensis (Fraser, 1843) – Bioko I.
  • T. a. affinis (Blyth, 1862) – Africa S from S edge of Sahara, including Zanzibar and Pemba, and Madagascar and Comoro Is.
  • T. a. alba (Scopoli, 1769) – Western Barn-owl – W & S Europe (including Balearic Is and Sicily) to N Turkey; also W Canary Is (Tenerife, Gran Canaria, El Hierro), and N Africa from Morocco to Egypt (except Sinai), S to N Mauritania, S Algeria, Niger (Aïr Massif) and NE Sudan.
  • T. a. guttata (C. L. Brehm, 1831) – C Europe E to Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine, and SE to Albania, Macedonia, Romania and NE Greece.
  • T. a. ernesti (O. Kleinschmidt, 1901) – Corsica and Sardinia.
  • T. a. erlangeri W. L. Sclater, 1921 – Crete and smaller S Greek islands, Cyprus and patchily from Syria E to SW Iran and S to NE Egypt (Sinai) and S Arabian Peninsula.
  • T. a. stertens E. J. O. Hartert, 1929 – Indian Subcontinent S to N Sri Lanka, and E to S China (Yunnan), Vietnam and S Thailand.
  • T. a. javanica (J. F. Gmelin, 1788) – Malay Peninsula (except extreme N) S to Greater and Lesser Sundas (E to Alor, and including Krakatau, Pulau Seribu, Kangean Is, Tanahjampea, Kalao, Kalaotoa and possibly S Borneo, but excluding Sumba).
  • T. a. deroepstorffi (A. O. Hume, 1875) – Andaman Barn-owl – S Andaman Is.
  • T. a. sumbaensis (E. J. O. Hartert, 1897) – Sumba (SC Lesser Sundas).
  • T. a. delicatula (Gould, 1837) – Eastern Barn-owl – S & E Lesser Sundas (Sawu, Roti(?), Timor, Yaco, Wetar, Kisar and Tanimbar Is); Australia and offshore islands; Long I and possibly N New Britain and New Ireland; also Nissan, Buka and Bougainville through Solomon Is, S Vanuatu (Erromanga, Tanna, Aneityum), New Caledonia, Loyalty Is, Fiji (N to Rotuma), Tonga (N to Niafo’ou), Wallis and Futuna Is, Niue I, Western Samoa and Samoa.
  • T. a. meeki (Rothschild & E. J. O. Hartert, 1907) – E New Guinea and nearby islands of Manam and Karkar.
  • T. a. crassirostris Mayr, 1935 – Tanga Is (E of New Ireland, in Bismarck Archipelago).
  • T. a. interposita Mayr, 1935 – Santa Cruz Is, Banks Is, N Vanuatu (S to Efate).
  • T. a. punctatissima (Gould & G. R. Gray, 1838) – Galapagos Barn-owl – Galapagos Is.
  • T. a. bargei (E. J. O. Hartert, 1892) – Curaçao Barn-owl – Curaçao, possibly also Bonaire.
  • T. a. pratincola (Bonaparte, 1838) – S Canada (SW British Columbia and S Ontario) S through USA at least to Mexico; also Bermuda, Bahamas and Hispaniola.
  • T. a. furcata (Temminck, 1827) – American Barn-owl – Cuba, Cayman Is and Jamaica.
  • T. a. niveicauda Parkes & A. R. Phillips, 1978 – I of Pines.
  • T. a. guatemalae (Ridgway, 1874) – Guatemala and perhaps S Mexico to Panama (including Pearl Is), possibly to W Colombia.
  • T. a. bondi Parkes & A. R. Phillips, 1978 – Bay Is (Roatán, Guanaja), off N Honduras.
  • T. a. contempta (E. J. O. Hartert, 1898) – Andes of W Venezuela, Colombia (possibly excluding W), Ecuador and Peru.
  • T. a. hellmayri Griscom & Greenway, 1937 – E Venezuela (including Margarita I) through the Guianas to N Brazil (S to Amazon); also Trinidad and Tobago.
  • T. a. tuidara (J. E. Gray, 1829) – Brazil (S of Amazon) S to Tierra del Fuego and Falkland Is.
  • Introduced (affinis) to Seychelles and (delicatula, pratincola) to Lord Howe I, where now presumed extirpated (few records since 1970s considered vagrants), and (pratincola) to Hawaii.

    Descriptive notes

    29–44 cm; 187–455 g (Europe, N Africa), 266–470 g (S Africa), 400–700 g (North America), 450–575 g (Cuba), 387–558 g (Suriname), 264 g (... read more


    Diverse range of calls associated with breeding, including screeches, wheezes, purrs, snores,... read more


    Occurs in great variety of habitats according to availability of prey, seasonality in temperate... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet better studied than that of any other raptor, most extensively in Europe and North America but also in Israel, parts of Africa (... read more


    In tropics can start in almost any month, generally late in dry season, in more arid areas during wetter periods; in N temperate regions... read more


    Most populations sedentary, with post-breeding dispersal of juveniles, as well as some movement of... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). CITES II. Status of many populations uncertain, particularly those on islands, but others locally common; species expanding in some... read more

    Recommended citation

    Bruce, M.D., Christie, D.A., Kirwan, G.M. & Marks, J.S. (2020). Common Barn-owl (Tyto alba). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 28 March 2020).