Adaptations of the Barn Owl

Updated April 17, 2017

Barn owls live on every continent of the world, except Antarctica. The have a wingspan of roughly 33 inches, but their body is small in comparison, at only around 14 inches from the top of their head to the tip of their tail feathers. Barn owls have several adaptations that aid them in hunting prey and eluding predators.

Facial Disk and Ears

These birds have a heart-shaped facial disk, which helps to catch and direct sounds into their ears. They also have one ear hole higher than the other. According to The Barn Owl Trust, this allows them to separately process the sounds, as the owl hears them differently in each ear. The barn owl can then precisely locate the point of origin of a sound, which helps it catch its prey. In addition, it can block out background noise to focus on the prey's sound.

Wings and Feathers

Barn owls have large wings in comparison to their body, which is known as a low wing loading. Because of this, they can fly slowly and hover more easily than other birds, which gives them time to find their prey from the air. According to Alice Springs Desert Park, they also have special adaptations to their feathers which allows them to fly silently -- the edges of their flight feathers have tiny hairs and their body feathers are soft, cutting out rustling and other unwanted noise.


The colouring of a barn owl is an adaptation which provides camouflage from both above and below. Their top halves are light brown, as are many of the areas in which they hunt. This means they're harder to spot from above, making them less susceptible to attacks from larger birds. The bottom halves of barn owls are white, making it difficult for prey below to identify their silhouettes against the sky.

Eyes and Talons

According to The Barn Owl Trust, barn owls' eyes are twice as light sensitive as humans'. Therefore, they have excellent vision in low light, helping to facilitate nocturnal hunting. Their eyes are also much more sensitive to movement than ours, so they instantly notice anything that starts to move. These owls also have longer legs and talons than other owls, so they can hunt prey in overgrown areas. Their talons are very sharp, and they use them to kill their prey.

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