Found on all continents except Antarctica, and regularly seen on all Hawaiian islands, the common barn owl is often confused with Hawaii’s smaller-sized native short-eared owl, pueo. But barn owls are light in color. They are most active during dusk and nightfall. Their white face is more heart-shaped than pueo’s. Nesting preferably in the hollows of trees and true to their name, barn owls aren’t shy of human habitat, and have often chosen barn lofts and other human-made structures as their nesting sites.
Barn owls were first brought to the islands in 1958 in an effort by the Department of Agriculture to control rodents. Later studies found that they prefer insects when plentiful, though. You may have heard their rasping screech as they hunt. These useful raptors mate when food supplies are good, up to twice a year: A rodent plague may cause their numbers to increase dramatically. Chicks leave the nest nine to ten weeks after hatching, and come to breeding maturity at about ten months.
Unfortunately, vehicular collisions, a lack of food, disease, and vaguely defined “sick owl syndrome,” which is possibly associated with chemicals released in the environment, are all contributing to the loss of owls in Hawaii. The life expectancy of barn owls is short indeed: They live about one to two years and many die sooner. It’s not that barn owls can’t live longer. Reports exist of a small number of individuals elsewhere in the world who survived in the wild for over eleven years and even over twenty years.
Barn owls are not federally threatened or endangered in the United States, but are protected in Hawaii by state wildlife laws.