Species Profile

Barn Owl Eastern population

Scientific Name: Tyto alba
Taxonomy Group: Birds
COSEWIC Range: Ontario
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2010
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: D1
COSEWIC Reason for Designation:

Eastern Canada supports a tiny fraction of the global population of this charismatic nocturnal raptor that preys on small rodents. Owing to its intolerance of cold climates and deep snow cover, populations in Canada are restricted to parts of southern British Columbia and southwestern Ontario, where the species is now close to being extirpated. Across the northern extent of its eastern North American breeding range, the species is declining and is threatened by ongoing loss and degradation of grassland and old field habitat and by the conversion of old wooden barns and other rural buildings to more modern structures. This owl is also exposed to increasing levels of road-kill mortality owing to expansion of the road network and increases in traffic volume.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: The species was considered a single unit and designated Special Concern in April 1984. In April 1999, the Western and Eastern populations were assessed separately. The Eastern population was designated Endangered. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2000 and November 2010.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Barn Owl

Barn Owl Photo 1

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Description

The Barn Owl is a medium-sized, buff-coloured owl with a distinctive heart-shaped facial disk. The head is rather large and lacks ear tufts. The upperparts are mainly buffy; the underparts are tawny to white, with fine black spots or speckles.

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Distribution and Population

In the Western Hemisphere, the Barn Owl is found from extreme southern Canada to southern South America and the West Indies. In Canada, the Barn Owl is at the northern limit of its range, and breeds only locally in southern British Columbia, southern Ontario, and possibly in southern Quebec. Spring transients or summer visitors are occasionally seen in the southern Prairie provinces. Barn Owl numbers in Ontario and Quebec were probably never very large, although the species possibly inhabited oak-savannah vegetation adjacent to tall grass prairie prior to European settlement. Colonization of southern Canada is attributed to clearance of forests for agriculture, which created open habitats supporting high rodent populations. In Ontario, Barn Owls may potentially breed on the Niagara Peninsula, in adjacent Halimand-Norfolk, in the Thousands Island area of Kingston, at Long Point and in several other localities in the southwestern part of the province. Because it is so secretive and nocturnal, the bird may be more numerous than supposed. Although it was thought that the Barn Owl may have been extirpated in Ontario, in 2000 there were two confirmed sightings of the species; both owls were roadkill when sighted. The species is believed to nest only irregularly in Quebec.

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Habitat

Barn Owls prefer low-elevation, open country, where their small rodent prey are more abundant. In Canada, they are often associated with agricultural lands, especially pasture. Nests are located in buildings, hollow trees and cavities in cliffs. In Canada, most nests are found on man-made structures, especially those which are abandoned or unused.

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Biology

Most Barn Owls begin breeding in their second year, although it is possible for them to breed towards the end of their first year. These owls are usually solitary nesters, but when food production or site availability are favorable, they will form loose colonies. They don't make a nest, but will use a site year after year, such that it accumulates debris. The size of the clutch (usually 5-8 white eggs), the number of broods in a year, and other reproductive factors are linked to the availability of food, mainly small mammals. Only the female incubates the eggs, but both parents feed the young.

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Threats

The main factor limiting the Barn Owl is the loss of habitat and of prey species, mainly due to the conversion of pasture into sites for row crops, and urbanization. Barn Owls are also susceptible to cold, and severe winters can reduce the population size. Pesticides and chemicals in the environment can cause reproductive problems and the death of birds; the use of chemicals to kill rodents has led to the poisoning of many Barn Owls.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Barn Owl, Eastern population, is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The Barn Owl is protected by the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. Under this Act, it is prohibited to harass, capture, or kill this species.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) Eastern Population in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date In 1997 an Ontario Barn Owl Recovery Project was initiated by a group of community stakeholders in Haldimand-Norfolk County, and the following year the recovery project’s committee established a provincial recovery plan for the owl. The committee monitors Barn Owl sightings and initiated a nest box program in 1998. Community involvement has been strong, and over 300 nest boxes have been erected. However, Barn Owls remain extremely rare in Ontario and have not yet been observed using any of the nest boxes. In 2002, the committee became the official national recovery team for the eastern population of the Barn Owl, and the team is updating the recovery plan. The team aims to increase the Barn Owl’s Ontario population to self-sustaining levels and to conserve and restore grassland habitat. Landowners have been helping to monitor nest box use, and searches are conducted to investigate reported sightings. Summary of Research/Monitoring Activities A study of the western population of Barn Owls in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia found that all but 9 of 236 sites used by owls for roosting and/or nesting were human-made structures (mostly barns). This suggests that, if nesting sites are limiting, appropriate human-made structures can be of significant benefit to this owl. No Barn Owl nests have been located in Ontario since the mid 1980’s. A broad-scale habitat analysis conducted in 1999 identified the north shore of Lake Erie as the region most suitable for Barn Owl recovery in southern Ontario. In 2001, researchers used remote sensing (satellite images) to identify potential pasture and grassland habitat in this region. They found that only small, fragmented grassland habitats exist along the north shore of Lake Erie and much continues to be converted to intensive row cropping and, in some cases, development. Furthermore, many of the old barns that Barn Owls use for nesting are being torn down as livestock production has decreased in the region in recent decades, and other old structures are being replaced with less suitable modern buildings. One part of the Barn Owl’s historical range that may still have pockets of suitable habitat is the Long Point Region. Therefore, in 2003 and 2004, researchers surveyed over-wintering raptors such as Short-eared Owls and grassland breeding birds whose habitat requirements are similar to those of the Barn Owl to help identify areas of potential habitat for Barn Owls in this region. To date, results have not shown any significant geographic concentrations of other grassland species in the region that may indicate there is sufficient habitat present for Barn Owls. Summary of Recovery Activities With the help of many volunteers, over 300 nest boxes have been erected in areas of potentially suitable Barn Owl habitat. These help to replace old wooden barns formerly used by the owl, which are gradually being replaced by steel barns. Nest boxes also help to replace standing dead trees (snags), which have been largely removed. Furthermore, nest boxes are designed to exclude predators, such as raccoons and cats. Habitat loss has had a significant impact on the Barn Owl, and the recovery team has developed management recommendations for farmers and rural landowners in order to facilitate private land stewardship. For instance, growing buffer strips along streams and fencerows can help provide habitat for the voles and mice that Barn Owls feed on. Landowners have learned about habitat stewardship for Barn owls through public presentations, the recovery project’s website (www.bsc-eoc.org/regional/barnowl.html) and annual newsletter (The Grasslands Flyer - available on the same website), as well as the Stewardship Guide to Grasslands for Rural Landowners, produced in 2005. The team is hoping to protect and restore grassland habitat by partnering with private and corporate landowners and stewardship groups. A grassland habitat workshop with government, non-government organizations, landowners and corporations was held in the Long Point Region in 2002. This workshop has proven very successful for sharing knowledge and initiating local partnerships that facilitate awareness of the significance of grassland habitats, and for communicating the ecological benefits and management practices of these habitats to a variety of stakeholders, including large land-holding corporations. URLshttp://www.bsc-eoc.org/regional/barnowl.html - Ontario Barn Owl Recovery Project

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

6 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Barn Owl, Eastern population (2011-12-08)

    Eastern Canada supports a tiny fraction of the global population of this charismatic nocturnal raptor that preys on small rodents. Owing to its intolerance of cold climates and deep snow cover, populations in Canada are restricted to parts of southern British Columbia and southwestern Ontario, where the species is now close to being extirpated. Across the northern extent of its eastern North American breeding range, the species is declining and is threatened by ongoing loss and degradation of grassland and old field habitat and by the conversion of old wooden barns and other rural buildings to more modern structures. This owl is also exposed to increasing levels of road-kill mortality owing to expansion of the road network and increases in traffic volume.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) Eastern Population in Canada (2021-03-04)

    The Minister of Environment and Climate Change is the competent minister under SARA for the Barn Owl, Eastern Population, and has prepared this federal component of the recovery strategy, as per section 37 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Province of Ontario (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) as per section 39(1) of SARA. SARA section 44 allows the Minister to adopt all or part of an existing plan for the species if it meets the requirements under SARA for content (sub sections 41(1) or (2)). The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (now the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) led the development of the attached recovery strategy for the Barn Owl (Part 2) in cooperation with Environment and Climate Change Canada. The Province of Ontario also led the development of the attached Government Response Statement (Part 3), which is the Ontario Government’s policy response to its provincial recovery strategy and summarizes the prioritized actions that the Ontario government intends to take and support.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 - 2011 (2011-09-09)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings during the past year assessing the status or reviewing the classification of a total of 92 wildlife species.

Permits and Related Agreements

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016-07-06)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update December 2, 2021
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