Hunting Barn Owl

This owl was persistent in its hunting and eventually patience paid off.


1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this Barn Owl two years ago today as it hunted near the road at Bear River MBR. I was able to get multiple images of it in flight but I’ve never posted this one before because the right wing tip of the owl is so close to the frame edge which made for a less than ideal composition. I could add canvas on the left to improve the composition but this time I chose to go au naturel. I especially like the direct eye contact and the mottled blue in the background.

After several passes near the road without any hunting success the owl began to hunt near a stand of phragmites further away and…



1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

several minutes later persistence paid off when it came out of the phrags with a vole. Here the owl appears to be inspecting its grip on the prey, perhaps to make sure the vole can’t bite its foot which is a common occurrence with raptors at this stage of the game. Those small but fearsome rodent teeth can and often do cause significant damage to raptor toes.

One of the few up-sides to our unusually warm winter this year is that deep snow and frigid cold aren’t stressing our Barn Owls. That means they’re not hunting during daylight in an attempt to get enough food to survive so I’m not getting any photos of them.

But for the sake of the owls that’s a tradeoff I’m happy to make. I’ve actually seen them shiver uncontrollably in the cold and many of our Barn Owls don’t make it through very cold winters.




24 comments to Hunting Barn Owl

  • Debbie

    Thanks Ron. My favorite subject. I love the first photo. I hate to think of them as being that cold. I wonder why Owls, except young Snowy Owls don,t migrate. They was a Snowy in Texas and there is one down by my airport which scares me.

  • Laura Culley

    You can always make me smile with barn owls. They’re at the top of the how-do-you-do-that list in terms of feather decoration! They’re also near the top of my LONG list of favorite birds. They’re just COOL! Good (and bad) that you’re not seeing them in the daylight, but like you said, if they’re not hunting during the day, they’re eating well at night. We need more barns that draw little rodents! That would fix the problems of cold and difficulty hunting.

    • Yup, more old barns would help, Laura but they keep tearing the old ones down, just like they did a couple of years ago to one near the causeway to Antelope Island. The older I get the more I appreciate old stuff!

  • Betty Sturdevant

    I totally agree with all the comments. Beautiful pictures and a great lesson in biology. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks for a better way to look at the warmer weather! For the owls. 😀

  • Marty K

    I especially like the 1/2 light; 1/2 shade on the face in the first shot. There’s something very “Phantom of the Opera” about it. So glad he was able to get a snack.

    If you’re looking for lots of birds, our liquid amber has been full of birds getting the last of the seeds out of the pods lately.

  • Alice Beckcom

    These are great photos, Ron. Every time I see a photo of a Barn Owl I like them even more. It is sad to hear about birds dying because of lack of food but not surprising. It is much easier to look at beautiful photos of birds rather than to think about them suffering…sad to say. I am glad that you talk about all sides of nature, good or bad.

    Thank you, Ron

  • April Olson

    This winter has been less birdy in general. Although I miss the clusters of birds fishing on the small patches of open water, I too am grateful for the birds sake the winter has been gentler. We will all be paying for the lack of snowfall this summer. I hope we have a wet spring!

  • Patty Chadwick

    Finding and catching voles through thick, spikey phragmites can’t be easy either….Mother Nature makes finding food so darned hard!!!

  • Wonderful photos, Ron and a belated thanks for your absolutely fascinating lesson on pigments and other ‘colorations’ of feathers! What a miracle the intersection of light and structure and food sources lead to in our beautiful companions. 🙂

  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful! Both photo’s are stunning in different ways. The first REALLY has a beautiful face shot and gives a great view of the wing stretch relative to the rest of the owl. The 2nd clearly show it has the vole tucked up checking it out while flying away – “multitasking” so to speak. 🙂

  • Elmer Deloso

    Love both of them. I’m curious with your last sentence. Is it because of lack of food as the primary cause?

    • Elmer, they die from both lack of food and cold and often it’s a combination because they need more food to keep warm when it’s very cold. When the snow is deep their rate of hunting success goes down significantly. Finding and catching voles through deep snow isn’t easy.