We think it is important to have a Barn Owl Ambassador because of their declining population. In spite of all the challenges facing wildlife in our increasingly human world, most raptors are thriving. Some, like the barred owl, are expanding into new territories. But barn owls are struggling. These shy birds of open grasslands, meadows, and pastures have lost much or their hunting and nesting habitat to development, industrial farming, and reforestation. Olive will help us spread the word about restoring and preserving this valuable habitat - not just for barn owls but for all wildlife that depends on grasslands. 

American Barn Owl (Tyto furcata?)

Olive came to the Secret Garden in the summer of 2023. Unlike our other birds, Olive was bred in captivity to be a falconry bird and a Wildlife Ambassador for her species. We prefer to give homes to birds that have recovered from injuries and are healthy but can't be released to the wild because of a permanent disability. But the barn owl population is in decline due to loss of hunting and nesting habitat. That, combined with their reclusive nature, means that few are found - injured or healthy. So, we looked for a captive bred owl and found Olive! Olive is about 3 years old. That sounds young, but in the wild a barn owl's lifespan in only 2 to 3 years. That makes Olive a lucky owl. In captivity, barn owls have been known to live well into their teens and even to almost 20. Because Olive is imprinted on humans, she can never be released to the wild. She simply would not know how to be a barn owl. She thinks she's one of us!


We wanted a barn owl for another reason too. Did you know that barn owls are different from all other owls? Here just a few of the things that make barn owls unique:

1. Barn have been around longer than other owls - at least 50 million years according to fossil records. And until about 25 million years ago, barn owls outnumbered all other owls combined.

2. Barn owls have their own taxonomic family - Tytonidae. All other owls, from the smallest elf owl to the largest eagle owl are in the family Strigidae.

3. Barn owls are the only owls with true worldwide range. There are barn owls on every continent except Antarctica - and on most islands too!

4. Barn owls are the only owls with heart shaped faces. 

5. Barn owls have the best hearing of any animal ever tested. In fact, barn owls hunt by listening for their prey rather than looking for it.

6. Barn owls are the only owls with one pectinate talon on each foot - a comb-like talon for preening their feathers. 

​7. Barn owls don't hoot or trill like other owls - they scream like a banshee and hiss like an espresso machine.

8. Barn owls have a surprisingly short lifespan in the wild of only 2 to 3 years. Most owls of their size live much longer.

9. Barn owls eat a lot of rodents. Olive eats about the same amount of food as out great horned owl, Hodor, but he weighs more than twice as much.

10. Unlike most owls, barn owls are not territorial and will nest close together if prey is abundant. This, combined with their large appetite, makes them valuable for natural pest control!

​11. Unlike most other owls, if conditions are right, barn owls will raise more than one brood of young each year. 

12. Barn owl pellets - regurgitated bits of undigestible bone wrapped up in undigestible fur - are always black. For other owls they are the color of their prey.

13. Unlike other owls, a barn owls eyes don't have a fovea - a point on the retina with clearest vision. I guess that doesn't matter if you can find your prey by sound - and don't have to see it.

If you are wondering why Olive's species is given as "furcata" with a question mark, it's because science is revealing new things about barn owls. For a long time, all barn owls were believed to be the same species with local variations described as subspecies. But now, based on genetic analysis, it appears that they are better described as individual species within the family Tytonidae. So, the American barn owl which was once known as Tyto alba pratincola is now Tyto furcata - at least according to some sources. But this could change as we learn more about this unique owl.