Patient of the Week: Six Baby Barn Owls Rescued After Being Orphaned

By Ashley Lema, Wildlife Rehabilitator

On April 9, we received six baby Barn Owls from a good Samaritan in Aurora, Oregon, who found them in some bales of hay that were transported from an unknown location in Madras, Oregon. Every year, we get young Barn Owls this way! It’s unfortunate that our human lives can alter and damage wild families without us even knowing sometimes. Luckily all of the babies were healthy, despite growing weaker after being separated from their parents. Without their parents, they would not be able to survive on their own just yet, and since we were unable to put them back with their family, we will raise them here at our Wildlife Care Center. 

A few of the Barn Owlets sitting in their nest in their indoor enclosure. A staff member was placing them back in their cage after daily weight checks, and assist feeding the young owls, while I took the photo.
A few of the Barn Owlets sitting in their nest in their indoor enclosure. A staff member was placing them back in their cage after daily weight checks, and assist feeding the young owls, while I took the photo.

After a few weeks in our hospital ward, they have grown a lot and have begun eating bits of mice on their own. They have now moved to an outdoor enclosure so they can begin acclimating to the outside, exploring their natural behaviors, and to protect their wildness by reducing exposure to people. To successfully raise and rehabilitate an orphaned wild animal, we must make sure they maintain their healthy fear of humans and don’t look to us for food. Soon they will start their fledging phase, where they can move around, stretch their wings, and start attempting short flights. For now, they mainly stay in their nest box, and are still quite fluffy with “down” feathers. The plan is to release them once they are able to hunt (which we will also teach them when they’re a bit older) and fend for themselves!

Barn Owls have large white, heart-shaped faces with no ear tufts and dark eyes. They are medium sized owls, that can vary from gray to cinnamon in color from above, and are mostly white underneath. They have long, rounded wings, short tails, incredibly long legs and toes and very sharp talons! These owls are predators of the night, and stay well hidden during the day. They nest and roost in trees, barns and abandoned houses, caves, on cliff ledges, and in various other crevices. At night, they hunt by flying low, back and forth over open habitat, looking for small rodents. Although Barn Owls do have remarkable vision, they mainly hunt by sound. Whether hunting over vegetation or snow, or even in complete darkness, these owls can always find their late night snacks. Barn Owls have “facial discs” that collect and funnel sound toward their ears. On top of that, they also have asymmetrically placed ears, one higher than the other, which helps them pinpoint the exact position of the source of the sound! Their ability to locate prey by sound alone is the best of any animal that has ever been tested. You can try listening (with our measly human ears) for their eerie, raspy calls that sound like a scream. They do not “hoot” like some more familiar owl species.

The Barn Owls sitting in their nest boxes in their outdoor enclosure. There are branches and logs connecting the nest boxes to the ground so the babies can safely explore once they are old and brave enough to do so.

Did you know?

    • Owls swallow their prey whole, skin, bones, and everything! Because of this, they cough up pellets instead of passing all that material through their digestive tracts. The pellets make a great record of what the owl has been eating, and some scientists study them to learn more about the owls and the ecosystems they live in! If you’d like to do some digging yourself, we sell owl pellet kits at the nature store! This is a great way to introduce young learners to the world of wildlife. Fostering a love and curiosity for these unique animals can inspire the next generation of environmental stewards!

How to Help

    • Despite their worldwide range, Barn Owls are declining in some areas due to habitat loss. Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair if you have the capacity! 
    • We get accidentally relocated animals of all kinds! You can help prevent these intakes by double checking for nests and parental activity before moving hay bales, brush piles, or even vehicles that have been stationary for a while. While it is best not to disturb nests at all, wild parents are dedicated and there are techniques for encouraging mom to relocate or creating surrogate nests for continued care. Give us a call to walk through your options!

What to Do If You Find An Ill, Injured or Orphaned Animal

    • If an animal is visibly ill or injured, has been in contact with a cat, or is definitely orphaned, the best thing you can do is contain the animal in a securely closed (but ventilated) box and keep the animal quiet and undisturbed until you can transport it to your closest wildlife rehabilitation facility. Do not offer food or water.
    • Renesting may be a possibility if parents are still present! Check out this article.

Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Wildlife Care Center accepts new patients from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day. You can also leave a message on our Wildlife Hotline at (503) 292-0304 or email and one of our wildlife solutions counselors will get back to you and provide advice for your specific situation.


Unfortunately due to COVID-19 we had to operate our Wildlife Care Center this past year with about 20% of our normal staffing and with about a 25% increase in our annual patient admissions. We were left with the difficult but necessary decision to discontinue providing follow-up updates on patients brought into our center so that we could focus on the daily care of the animals. And while we simply cannot write a story about each animal, our goal for this fresh and bright new year is to show you what we can: in the form of a weekly patient update! Check in every Thursday for our “Patient of the Week”; with information on the species, the circumstances that brought the animal in, and preventative advice so you can be a better steward for our wildlife!

If you’d like to contribute to the Wildlife Care Center, please consider making a donation here. Your support helps us save lives.