The Races of the Barn Owl

The Thirty-Five Races of the Barn Owl

The Class of Birds (called Aves) consists of 27 different orders. One of these orders, Strigiformes, contains all the worlds owls, and is divided into two families: Strigidae (the so-called true or typical owls) and Tytonidae (known as barn owls).

Photo courtesy of Murray Lord

Photo courtesy of Murray Lord

Overall there are about 216 species of owls, with around 200 in the typical owl family, and 16 species in the barn owl family. The bird most typically known as the barn owl is Tyto alba, which is what we concern ourselves with here.

The diversifying effect of the genetic isolation found on islands is quite evident in the subspecies of Tyto alba: of the 35 races, 20 inhabit only relatively small islands. In fact, the worldwide range of the barn owl is mostly achieved through the ranges of only 11 of its subspecies.

Wherever they live, barn owls remain cavity nesters, are attracted to the structures of man, and also can be attracted to nest boxes.

New World Barn Owls

  1. North American Barn Owl (Tyto alba pratincola): This is the barn owl of the United States and Central America. This subspecies has one of the largest ranges of any of the races.
  2. Central American Barn Owl (T. a. guatemalae):  Takes up where pratincola leaves off–ranging through Guatemala, Nicaragua, Salvador, and Panama.
  3. Bahamian Barn Owl (T. a. lucayana): Ranges throughout the Bahamas.
  4. Cuban Barn Owl (T. a. furcata): Cuba, Grand Caymans, and Jamaica
  5. Subandean Barn Owl (T. a subandeana): Contines the range of the barn owl in South America, found in Columbia and Ecuador
  6. Columbian Barn Owl (T. a. contempta): Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. (smallest and darkest of the races)
  7. Hellmayr’s Barn Owl (T. a. hellmayri): Venezuela into Brazil.
  8. Brazilian Barn Owl (T. a. tuidara): Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, completing the range of the barn owl on the South American mainland
  9. Tortugan Barn Owl (T. a. glaucops): the islands of Tortuga and Hispanolia in the West Indies
  10. Dominican Barn Owl (T. a. nigrescens): the island of Dominica in the West Indies. A very dark race.
  11. St. Lucia Barn Owl (T. a insularis): the Lesser Antilles in the West Indies, including St. Lucia, Grenada, and St. Vincent
  12. Curacao Barn Owl (T. a. bargei): the island of Curacao off the coast of Venezuela
  13. Galapagos Barn Owl (T. a. punctatissima): James Island in the Galapagos Islands.
Photo courtesy of Michael Todd

Photo courtesy of Michael Todd

European Barn Owls

  1. British Barn Owl (Tyto alba alba): British Isles, France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Greece, and North Africa.
  2. European Barn Owl (T. a. guttata): Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Russia, Austria, Hungary, Bulgiaria, and the Crimea
  3. Madeiran Barn Owl (T. a. schmitzi): the island of Madeira off the coast of Portugal
  4. Ernest’s Barn Owl (T. a. ernesti): the islands of Corsica and Sardinia in the Mediterranean


African Barn Owls

  1. african-grass-owlCanary Island Barn Owl (T. a. gracilirostris): eastern Canary Islands off the coast of Africa
  2. Cape Verde Barn Owl (T. a. detorta): the islands of St. Vincent and Santiago in the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of west Africa
  3. West African Barn Owl (T. a. poensis): the island of Fernando Po off the coast of West Africa
  4. Sao Thome Barn Owl (T. a. thomensis): the island of Sao Thome off the coast of West Africa
  5. African Barn Owl (T. a. affinis): this very large barn owl is the barn owl of the African mainland, occuring from Gambia in northwestern Africa all the way to the very southern tip of the continent.
  6. Madagascan Barn Owl (T. a. hypermetra): even larger than the African, this barn owl inhabits only the large island of Madagascar and the Comoro Islands.
  7. Erlanger’s Barn Owl (T. a. erlangeri): Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Iraq, and Iran; this is the barn owl being used by the farmers in Israel for integrated pest management.

Asian Barn Owls

  1. Indian Barn Owl (T. a. stertens): India, Pakistan, Burma, Assam, and Sri Lanka. This owl also has a large range, similar to the European, North American, and African.
  2. Burmese Barn Owl (T. a. javanica): Burma, Thailand, Indo-China, and all of South East Asia. The Burmese is being used by oil palm plantations to help control their rodent infestations.
  3. Andaman Barn Owl (T. a. de-roepstorffi): a very red race of barn owl that occurs only on the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean
  4. Sumban Barn Owl (T. a. sumbaensis): only on Sumba Island in Indonesia
  5. Kisar Barn Owl (T. a. kuehni): only on Kisar Island in Indonesia
  6. Savu Barn Owl (T.a. everetti): only on the the island of Savu in Indonesia

Australian Barn Owls

  1. Photo courtesy of Michael Todd

    Photo courtesy of Michael Todd

    New Guinea Barn Owl (T. a. meeki): south-eastern New Guinea and Dampier and Vulcan Islands

  2. Boaing Island Barn Owl (T. a. crassirostris): Boaing Island east of New Guinea
  3. Santa Cruz Barn Owl (T. a. interposita): Santa Cruz and New Hebrides Islands off the coast of Queensland
  4. New Caledonia Barn Owl (T. a. lulu): New Caledonia, New Hebrides, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and the Society Islands
  5. Australian Barn Owl (T. a. deliculata): Australia, Tasmania, and the Solomon Islands. This race is being used in sugar cane plantations to help control cane, roof, and Norwegian rats.


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