Somerset Wildlife Trust

Work For Us|

Frequently Asked Questions

Barn Owl by Brian PhippsIf you have a question about how you can help barn owls on your land, please have a look at the frequently asked questions below which might help. If you still have a query about barn owls, contact us on 01823 652400 or e-mail

Q. I already have a barn owl box, but no barn owls. What can I do? 

Barn owls will only move in to an area if there is enough rough grassland hunting habitat to sustain good numbers of field voles and other small mammals for them to feed on.  Increasing the amount of this habitat and the animals it supports is the only way to attract Barn Owls to your land. At certain times of the year, mainly autumn and winter, young barn owls will be distributing away from their parental territories and looking to set up territories of their own.  If you have enough prey it is likely that any birds passing though at this time will stay.  Once a pair of barn owls have moved in to the area, your nest box is very likely to be used as there are very few natural nest sites for barn owls left and they are always very keen to use nest boxes.  The most important thing to remember is that nest boxes do not attract barn owls, only suitable habitat and abundant prey does this.  The boxes will then enable them to breed and their young to repopulate other areas.

For further advice on habitat management download our information sheet 'How Can I Help Barn Owls on my Land.'

Q. I have a barn owl box but haven't put it up, where is the best place to put it?

Ideally Barn Owl boxes should be around 8-12 feet from ground level and facing away from the prevailing south-westerly winds which tend to carry the most rain.  The box should have good access at all times, so if you’re putting it in a building there must be permanent access.  Old buildings, dutch-style open barns, or solitary trees are the best places to fix boxes to, and most importantly they must be surrounded by, or very near to, ample rough grassland hunting habitat.

barn owl - Darin Smith

Q. How much space do Barn owls needs? I only have a small garden, is this enough?

Barn Owls do need lots of open countryside over which to hunt, but the actual size depends on the quality of the habitat and therefore the amount of prey animals it can support.  If your garden is in a quiet, rural location, surrounded by open fields it may be suitable, but if it is in a built-up area with little or no rough grassland around unfortunately it will not.

Q. If my neighbour has a box, does it mean I won't get barn owls?

No.  The most important factor is availability of prey.  If there is enough rough grassland to support good numbers of small mammal prey then pairs can nest in close proximity to one another (within a few hundred metres if the habitat is good enough).
If there is not enough prey to support more than 1 pair it is still worth putting up more than 1 box, because not only will it give the pair a choice of nest sites, but it will also give the male barn owl somewhere safe to roost whilst the female is incubating and brooding the young, and for both parents to roost once the owlets are of an age where they do not require the female to roost with them any longer.  In good vole years it is not unusual for Barn owls to breed twice in one year, and when this happens they will often choose to use a different box for the second brood.

Q. My land is mostly woodland, is this a good place for a barn owl box?

Barn Owls are birds of open countryside and do not live in woods.  Sometimes it can be suitable to place a barn owl box on the edge of a woodland, for example if it is surrounded by open farmland, but there are often more dominant species within the wood such as Tawny Owl and Grey Squirrel which can take over the box and prevent barn owls from using it.

Q. I saw a barn owl, what should I do now?

Please submit your sighting via our website here. This will help us to build a picture of how barn owls are doing in our county. 

If you saw the barn owl on or near land you own, you may want to apply for one of our free parish nest boxes, or to build or buy your own box, especially if you start to see the barn owl regularly.
If you see a barn owl carrying food during spring and summer (although they can breed at any time) it may be that they have a nest nearby.  As a Schedule 1 Specially Protected Species it is against the law to visit a barn owl nest site without a licence.  If you believe barn owls may be nesting find a concealed location a few hundred metres from the nest location and watch around dusk.  You may hear hissing and snoring noises coming from the nest location, and see parents returning frequently with food.  If you think you have found a nest, please let us know, and if the landowner gives permission we could come and ring the baby owls to help the British Trust for Ornithology in their long-running research into barn owl distribution and longevity. Chris Sperring has a Schedule 1 Licence and Ringing Permit.  If the landowner does not want us to visit or ring the owlets we would still like to know about the nest site as it will help us to establish population and distribution data for barn owls in Somerset, enabling us to continue to monitor and conserve them.

Q. I have a barn owl box on my land, how do I monitor it without disturbing any owls inside?

Firstly listen out for owls calling, the main call of a barn owl is a long, drawn-out hissing scream, which is often uttered in flight. Full details on Barn Owls available on the BTO website. It is illegal to disturb barn owls at a nest without a licence and, although they can breed at almost any time during the year, the main nesting season is April to September. So if you suspect there are barn owls using your nest box avoid approaching it unless it is on your regular route (e.g. a farmer visiting a barn).  The owls may ignore regular people, but soon notice something or someone different. 

For more details download our information sheet 'Monitoring a Barn Owl Nest Box'

Photo credit: Brian Phipps (top and bottom) Darin Smith (middle)

Viridor Credits logo jpeg small
The Somerset Community Barn Owl Project is funded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company; a charity that distributes monies from the Landfill Communities Fund.
The project is a collaboration with the Hawk and Owl Trust, a national charity dedicated to conserving wild birds of prey and owls and their habitats.