How to Attract Barn Owls (Here’s the Best Way)

If you’re looking to attract barn owls to your yard, you’re in the right place.

Barn owls are fascinating creatures known for their distinctive appearance and natural ability to control rodent populations. Attracting these birds to your backyard or property can be an exciting and rewarding experience if done correctly.

In this article, we will explore several methods to create an ideal environment for these nocturnal birds and increase the likelihood of them becoming your new neighbors.

Key Takeaways

  • Provide food, water, shelter, and nesting sites to create suitable habitats for barn owls.
  • Install nest boxes in appropriate locations to encourage owls to visit and settle in your property.
  • Encourage a food source and eliminate potential threats to create a supportive environment for barn owls.

How to Attract Barn Owls

barn owl looking out of a barn door

Attract Natural Prey

If you really want to attract barn owls, you have to attract their prey.

Barn owls have a diverse diet, but their primary food source consists of rodents such as rats, gophers, and other small mammals.

So, you’ll want to make your backyard more appealing to these types of prey, and help barn owls hunt them.

Here’s what to do:

  • Install brush piles (here’s a tutorial from Audubon Society) and rock piles to create potential homes for mammals and reptiles.
  • Put a perch near this area, like a pole or a large branch, to give the barn owls an elevated vantage point. This will make it easier for them to hunt their prey.
  • If you really want to encourage barn owl populations, you could create a habitat that supports the growth of rodent populations. For example, allowing an area of your garden to grow wild or maintaining rough, tussocky grasslands can provide shelter and breeding grounds for rodents, attracting barn owls in search of food1.

Read Next: How to Attract Screech Owls

Use Other Food Sources

Besides rodents and reptiles, barn owls also eat bugs and large insects like spiders, earthworms, and centipedes.

The good news is, just by cultivating a diversity of plant species in your gardens, you can further support the barn owl’s food source 2.

Additionally, consider offering water sources such as birdbaths or small ponds, which can attract insects and provide a necessary resource for the owls.

Don’t Cut Down Mature Trees

barn owl peeking out of a tree cavity

Barn owls prefer mature trees with cavities, which serve as potential nesting sites.

So, be sure not to thin out the old trees on your property if you want barn owls to settle there.

Deciduous trees with rough bark also make for suitable roosting areas. Their nocturnal nature allows owls to comfortably hide from predators during the day.

Otherwise, plan a variety of tree species to create a diverse, healthy ecosystem and keep barn owls sheltered and safe.

Provide Roosting Areas for Barn Owls

Barn owls need safe roosting areas where they can rest during the day and avoid potential threats.

You can supplement the natural tree cavities by installing nesting boxes specifically designed for barn owls.

Place these boxes at least 2.5 meters off the ground to ensure protection from predators.

Plus, keeping an open shed or barn that’s free of human activity can also create a welcoming environment for owls to roost and nest.

Establish Native Grasslands

In addition to trees, barn owls benefit from a plentiful supply of native grasslands. Establishing tall grasses and wildflowers provides habitats for the owl’s natural prey, such as rodents.

The dense ground cover offered by native grasslands not only supports a healthy ecosystem but also creates hiding spots for the prey, attracting barn owls in search of food.

Installing Barn Owl Nesting Boxes

barn owl sleeping in a nesting box attached to a tree

Choosing a Nest Box

Barn owls are typically attracted to man-made structures, such as nest boxes, barns, and even houses for raising their young.

The key factors to keep in mind for an adequate nesting box for barn owls are: size, depth, and dryness.

Here’s what you need to know to pick the right barn owl nest box:

  • Choose a suitable nest box designed specifically for them. Barn owls need a nest box with an entrance hole large enough for them to fit. 
  • As a rule of thumb, make sure the nest box is spacious enough to accommodate the owl species you are targeting.
  • Make sure a barn owl nest box has a depth of a minimum of 18 inches—and up to about 28 inches. This is to prevent baby barn owl deaths, as they won’t be able to accidentally get out of the entrance hole before they’re big enough to fly. If a barn owlet can reach the exit before its ready, it may fall out, usually resulting in its death.
  • You may want to find a nesting box with a built-in perch/platform area as a safety feature for nestlings.
  • The box itself should be made from untreated wood, yet be sturdy enough to withstand various weather conditions.
  • Choose an owl nesting box with features like a weatherproofing sealant to provide insulation and keep the inside of the nest box dry.
  • Also, check that it has proper drainage and ventilation to ensure the health and safety of the owls and their owlets.

Scroll all the way to the bottom of this article to find a fantastic video on making sure you’re getting the right type of nesting box for barn owls.

Finding the Ideal Location

The location you choose for installing a nest box plays a pivotal role in attracting barn owls. These birds prefer hunting in open fields where they can easily spot their prey, such as voles and mice.

Therefore, it’s important to place the nest box near fields or meadows.

Trees in the vicinity offer additional nesting places and shelter for the owls.

Positioning and Mounting the Nest Box

When you’re mounting your nest box, here’s what you need to factor in:

  • Position the owl nesting box at least 15-20 feet high, ensuring the opening is shaded from the sun and wind 1.
  • If you’re mounting it on a pole, add a baffle to deter cats, raccoons, and other predators from reaching the box. Alternatively, nesting platforms can be placed in barns, steeples, or silos if the owls can easily access them.
  • To further optimize the nest box for successful barn owl occupancy, make sure it faces away from the prevailing wind and direct sunlight.
  • Moreover, having a clear flight path for the owls to enter and exit the nest box is critical for them to feel comfortable occupying the space.

Maintaining the Nest Box

Maintaining the cleanliness and safety of your nest box is crucial for ensuring that barn owls continue to occupy it in the long run.

Regularly check the box for any signs of damage or intrusion from other bird species or predators.

Also, clean out any debris, such as old nests and droppings, annually, preferably after the breeding season.

Eliminating Potential Threats

raccoon looking down from a tree branch

Deterring Natural and Human Predators

To attract barn owls and help them thrive in your area, it’s wise to eliminate potential threats with some simple measures.

  • One major wildlife threat to barn owls includes squirrels and raccoons. To deter these predators, install owl nest boxes at appropriate heights and locations, such as on mature trees or structures separate from your main building.
  • Additionally, adopting practices such as maintaining a clean yard and securing trash cans will discourage scavengers like raccoons.
  • Humans can also pose a threat to barn owls. Minimize the impact of exterior lighting and loud noises, which could disrupt the owl’s natural hunting habits.
  • Also, you may want to avoid using recorded owl calls, as these can be perceived as territorial by owls, and ultimately drive them away.

Planning for Co-existing Species

Promoting barn owl-friendly habitats will benefit other native species as well.

  • Provide shelter in the form of grass, brush piles, and seed-rich plants. These habitats encourage the presence of small rodents and other natural prey for barn owls, like shrews and lizards, contributing to a stable ecosystem.
  • Take care, however, not to inadvertently favor more aggressive species like the barred owl, who may compete with barn owls for resources. Maintain a balance in your habitat planning, so it better fits barn owls’ requirements, such as providing old barns and buildings for them to nest in, as other owl species may compete for hollow trees.

Human Activity Factors

  • Habitat loss due to human activity is a major concern for barn owls. To counteract this, set aside designated areas for the owls to nest and rest. Focus on preserving existing structures, such as barns or other suitable buildings, to provide safe spaces for nesting. Use wood shavings as nesting materials in owl boxes to make them more attractive to barn owls.
  • Cultivate nearby vegetation as a source of food for barn owls by maintaining meadows and grasslands that support populations of small rodents.
  • Additionally, avoid using harmful pesticides that can negatively impact the owls and their food supply.

Avoiding Chemicals in Pest Control

  • You should avoid using rodent poisons and other chemical pest control methods, as these can have a detrimental impact on barn owls and other species of owls.
  • Owls that consume rodents that have been exposed to rat poison or other toxins can become sick and even die as a result 3.
  • Instead, consider using natural or mechanical pest control methods, such as traps, to reduce the rodent population without harming barn owls.
  • You can also count on natural predators like the barn owl itself as a form of pest control for your gardens and farms.

Awareness and Conservation

Promoting Conservation Practices

Did you know you can help promote conservation practices that help maintain the natural habitat of the barn owl, simply by following some steps we already discussed?

For example:

  • Minimize the use of chemicals and rat poison, as these can harm owls and other birds of prey that feed on rodents.
  • Encourage wildlife-friendly farming techniques, including creating nesting areas and preserving mature trees with nesting cavities, suitable for barn owls to reside in.
  • Setting up a barn owl nest box can also be beneficial, especially if it’s placed on a pole about 2.5 meters off the ground, to provide a safe and attractive nesting option.

Assisting Local Researchers and Citizen Science Programs

You can support local researchers, barn owl groups, and citizen science programs by participating in their activities and providing them with valuable information about barn owl sightings, breeding, and nesting in your area.

These data can contribute to our understanding of their habitat requirements, feeding habits, and more, allowing people to develop better conservation plans for their survival.

Moreover, working with local researchers can help you learn more about these captivating creatures and equip you with the knowledge to make your farms, gardens, and other land more hospitable for barn owls.

Adhering to Federal Laws and Regulations

Lastly, it’s important to be aware of and adhere to federal laws and regulations, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects barn owls and other bird species.

Respecting the law gives you the opportunity to contribute to the conservation efforts for these birds and help minimize factors that can lead to their mortality.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of nesting box do barn owls prefer?

Barn owls prefer nesting boxes with a generous size and a specific design. A typical barn owl box has an entrance hole, a perch, and a spacious interior.

The entrance hole should be large enough for the owl to comfortably enter and exit. Ensure that the box material is safe and durable, like untreated wood, to withstand weather conditions and provide insulation.

Where should I place a barn owl box on my property?

When positioning a barn owl box, select a location that offers safety and easy access for the owls.

Mount the box on a pole about 2 and a half meters off the ground. Place the box away from busy roads, dense foliage, and other potential disturbances.

Ideally, the box should face an open field or hay meadow that provides ample hunting opportunities for the owls.

Which owl calls help attract barn owls?

Although specific owl calls are sometimes used to attract barn owls, they may not really work as they can actually confuse or deter them.

Also, it’s important ensure that the area is safe for these birds before attempting to lure them.

Attracting barn owls to an unsafe location is considered unethical and wrong. So, before using any owl calls, assess the safety and suitability of the area for barn owls, as well as the utility.

Are there specific plants that attract barn owls?

Barn owls are attracted to open habitats with abundant prey.

While there may not be specific plants that directly attract barn owls, maintaining natural vegetation in the area can encourage a healthy prey population.

Planting native grasses and maintaining meadows can help attract small mammals, which in turn, may attract barn owls.

How can I attract barn owls in different regions?

The process of attracting barn owls may vary slightly depending on the region. For example, in some areas, it is crucial to provide supplementary food during bad weather.

Supporting wildlife-friendly farmers and managing land for barn owls will also help them thrive in different regions. Get involved with local barn owl conservation groups to learn more about the specific needs of barn owls in your area.

What is the best time of day to observe barn owls?

Barn owls are typically most active during dusk and dawn, as they are crepuscular hunters.

Observation during these hours will increase your chances of encountering them. However, they have been known to hunt throughout the day as well when food sources are scarce.


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  2. The Spruce – How to attract owls
  3. The Spruce – Avoiding harmful chemicals in Barn Owl Boxes

Helpful Video on Selecting a Barn Owl Nesting Box

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