Halloween Edition

October 2014

Interactive October 16, 2014

Myths of the Ghost Bird

Some call it "ghost bird." Others have named it "demon bird." In fact, colloquial names abound for the widespread Barn Owl (Tyto alba). Found on every continent except Antarctica, and with about 30 subspecies filling its range, the majestic Barn Owl has not always been looked upon favorably. Click around the map below to find out the cultural myths this owl has inspired.

Range data source: BirdLife International
  • Endangered
  • Species of Special Concern
Photo © Ana & Xavier

Despite their bad reputation in folklore, Barn Owls do a lot of good. Many farmers forge beneficial relationships with Barn Owls, as a single owl family can consume approximately 3,000 rodents a year. The majority of their diet is gophers, and they also eat mice, voles, moles, and rats. In exchange for a nest box, they will keep fields clear of rodents, reduce crop damage and loss, and eliminate the need to put out rodenticide. Seeing a Barn Owl is simply a good sign that the ecosystem is healthy and resilient. So remember, Barn Owls are only a scary bird if you’re a mouse!

Download a Barn Owl Nest Box Plan

Barn Owls are valuable as agents of rodent pest control, and they are considered endangered or of special concern in many states. Download a Barn Owl nest box plan on NestWatch's All About Birdhouses.

This Month’s Articles

A Murder in the City

Research Recap October 30, 2014

All Those Pumpkins!!

Factoid October 23, 2014

Myths of the Ghost Bird

Interactive October 16, 2014

One of the Flock

From Our Data October 9, 2014

Along Came a Spider

Slideshow October 2, 2014


  1. Christopher Walker says:

    My wife was sitting in a small opening in some redwood trees shortly after sunset in Mendocino county and she saw a barn owl flying right towards her — she was afraid that it might hit her and she let out a gasp — I was sitting right next to her and I looked up, startled, and glimpsed the bird just as he veered sharply off his course away from her — a ghostly white apparition who disappeared without a sound. It was quite an amazing experience for both of us which we shall never forget. Thanks to Allaboutbirds.org and The CornellLab for always giving us the best of everything about our avian friends!

  2. Denise Doctor says:

    this is wonderful , the cornell lab never ceases to amaze me..

  3. Carol Brockfield says:

    I once “consorted” with a Barn Owl, following it from tree to tree–yes, ghostly at night. In Napa, CA, we often heard a pair calling to each other as they flew, picked up owl pellets for disection. They lived in the palm trees at Napa State Hospital and seemed nearly as interested in us as we were of them, alighting on tree trunks near us to get a closer look.

  4. nicholas says:

    In Poland It was too.

  5. Rick says:

    I heard a lot of scratching in the metal fireplace chimney in our living room, opened the flu carefully and a Barn Owl dropped down into the fireplace. It was dirty looking from scratching the soot in the chimney. I covered picture windows, pulled all the drapes and left the sliding glass door open. I opened the glass fireplace doors and gently touched the very frightened bird with a yard stick. It flew through the family room, circled the kitchen and came back to the family room. It hovered near the ceiling and then flew out the open sliding glass door. Barn Owls are really big birds when seen flying through a house!


    I was fortunate to see one actively hunting in a recently restored marsh off of Highway One in Pacifica early one evening a year or so ago. Although it dove at least a half dozen times, while I was there, I didn’t see it catch a single creature. If this was a typical performance, it must take an awful lot of work, all night long, all year long to catch 3000 rodents.

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