Barn Owls are perhaps the most widespread of all land birds, found on every continent and on many island groups. They occur in varying plumages across vast regions of the globe.
Barn Owls are primarily found in tropical latitudes, although some range into temperate regions. Thus they occur throughout the whole of Africa (with the exception of the Sahara and the Congo Basin) and in the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Guinea. They occur from South America through Central America and the Caribbean to southern Canada, and throughout Europe. Barn Owls avoid mountainous areas, severe cold, deserts, and dense tropical rain forests.
Barn Owls hunt at night in open or semi-open country, quartering low over marshes, grasslands, and fields. During the course of a night, they may fly many miles and sometimes follow regular routes along fence lines, hedgerows, or the edges of wooded areas. Typically they fly with slow flaps alternating with glides. Broad wings and low wing-loading allow more buoyant flight than that of other owls. At times, they fly down upon prey from a stationary perch. The hearing ability of Barn Owls has been well studied, and it has been shown conclusively that they are able to capture prey in total darkness. Prey consists mostly of rodents, especially voles, but shrews, ground squirrels, rabbits, and other mammals may be taken, as well as limited numbers of lizards, frogs, insects, and even fish.
By day, Barn Owls roost in hollow trees, crevices in cliffs, and in buildings such as barns, abandoned buildings, and church towers. Barn Owls do not hoot as is typical of many owls; rather, they issue a hissing shriek. They are believed to mate with the same partner year after year. Eggs are sometimes laid in a depression made in debris, or may be surrounded by castings, but like most other owls, they do not construct a real nest. Breeding sites are the same types of places used for roosting. Nesting boxes may also be used. Young Barn Owls make their first flights after about two months, returning to sleep at the nest site for several weeks thereafter.
Barn Owls have a distinctive white, heart-shaped face rimmed with brown. They have relatively small, dark eyes. Males are usually paler and slightly smaller than females, with white underparts sometimes speckled with black spots; females have cinnamon wash across the breast. The upperparts are yellowish-brown or buffy with a light gray mantle speckled with white spots bordered with black. In flight, the tail and broad, somewhat pointed wings show darker barring. The legs are long and feathered with white nearly to the toes, and the feet and claws are brownish black. The bill is pale pinkish-yellow.