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Conservation of barn owl

Conservation of barn owl

Barn owl (Tyto alba), also locally known as Gothe Latokosero of the family Tyonidae, is a nocturnal and mystical bird. It can be identified by its heart-shaped facial characteristics and a distinct screeching call.

Barn owls can be found on almost every continent except Antarctica. Globally it is concerned but categorized as vulnerable under the National Red List of Nepal Birds. It is one of the commonly known bird species and found in folklore and myths of almost every culture. They are associated with wealth, prosperity, patience, intelligence, and spiritual purity. Culturally it is believed that barn owls possesse the mystical power of fortune telling. 

Since barn owls are  nocturnal birds of prey, most people do not know about their habits and habitat. A barn owl can be found in elevations between 75 meters to 1,320 meters in Nepal. 

We do not have the scientific study that relates to the population of the barn owl; however, there is an expert guess which suggests that the population of the species is below one thousand in Nepal.

Ecological and economic significance

Barn owls and humans coexist with each other in a human-made environment. They can be found roosting and nesting in old buildings, especially inner areas of the roofs under the houses. It hunts rats, mice, and also small birds and bats. They play an important role as nocturnal predators by controlling the population of rodents and maintaining balance in the ecosystem.They safeguard the stored grains and agricultural products from pests like rodents. 


Globally the population of barn owls is stable but in the context of Nepal, their number is decreasing. Barn owls readily utilize human-made structures and live near human settlements.

The threats for this species range from habitat loss and degradation, illegal hunting and trade, use of pesticides, and lack of public awareness. Due to the extent of urbanization and the decrease in agricultural land, the barn owl lost its nesting and roosting site, and hunting area. Modernization of houses and lack of open lands negatively impact on barn owl population and its existence. An increase in the number of vehicles may raise the number of collisions as barn owls have low-flying flight patterns to catch their prey.

As this species merges and utilizes the human environment, change in that area directly impacts on existence. Lack of nesting and roosting places in modern houses, lack of hunting grounds is severely affecting the species. 

Furthermore, a study done in 2015 revealed that the earthquake caused an adverse effect on potential sites for barn owls in the Kathmandu Valley, as many old houses which have structures that support the nesting of the bird were damaged.

The use of pesticides to control the rodent population to increase agricultural products have also affected barn owls. Rodents after consuming rodenticides show reduced mobility, which makes them vulnerable to predation by barn owls. Consuming such rodents in turn may be causing the death of barn owls. 

What can be done?

While the barn owl is considered a resident bird species, it is essential to study its ecology, hunting behavior, habitat preferences, and zoonotic diseases. Public awareness about the benefit of barn owls can also help. One of the ongoing practices is the Nepal Owl Festival which is celebrated every year. These types of collective efforts promote owl conservation through the involvement of the community. As the effort is made on the localized scale, the government should support the concerned organizations to amplify the scale of coverage of the initiatives.  

Nepal has prepared a conservation action plan for barn owls. The action plan stipulates that the existence of the species depends on the safety of its habitat and availability of prey to hunt. Restoring its old habitats, encouraging the building of artificial nests in semi urban cities like Lumbini, Pokhara, Koshi and Bhaktapur helps in improving their habitat qualities. In the finer scale, practicing agroforestry with layers of trees, bushes and vegetation of native plants, helps maintain local biodiversity and also provides a safe habitat and hunting ground for barn owls. The approach will serve the dual purpose of providing important fodder and fuelwood for the household, as well as providing the protective layer for the crops.

To reduce illegal hunting, trade and harm to this bird, a penalty of Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 or an imprisonment of six months to one year or both, is in place. But most people are unaware about this law, so it would be good if we invest in awareness drives. 

Despite being the least concerned species in other parts of the range, the situation of barn owls in Nepal is terrifying. And most of the threats to the species finds their root in anthropogenic interferences. However, the species are yet to receive the conservation attention they deserve. We need to shift our focus to preserve the nesting, roosting and hunting sites of the barn owl and alleviate other threats to prevent the local extirpation of the species.