Barn Owls and Harsh Winters

Barn Owl in flightBarn Owl in flight – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

Barn Owls are typically strictly nocturnal but during harsh winters with lots of snow they do hunt during the day here in Utah. It has been bitter cold for some time now and we have had lots of snow falling during recent storms and that snow makes it difficult for Barn Owls to find their prey. Cold makes the owls need more calories to survive so they start hunting during daylight hours. So while it makes me and other bird photographers happy to photograph them during the day it is also sad that if it doesn’t warm up and the snow doesn’t melt some of these beautiful owls will die because of starvation.

The flying Barn Owl above was photographed three days ago while it hunted marshy areas at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area in northern Utah. I appreciated that the owl was flying south towards the light because that created a catch light in the owl’s deep-set eyes.

Barn Owl Close upBarn Owl Close up – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The Barn Owl above flew almost too close to photograph it, much like the Golden Eagle I had photographed on Antelope Island earlier in the morning. At least with this owl I didn’t clip the wings like I did on the eagle and even though the Barn Owl was flying away from the sun I was able to get some light in the eye because of the reflected light off of the snow below the owl.  I wish I would have had a touch more room in front of and below the owl and even though I could add it in Photoshop I am not fond of altering my images to that degree, besides, I like this close up view.

Barn Owl fly by

Barn Owl fly by – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 400, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

When this Barn Owl flew past me I could see that it had some ice and snow on its feet, that makes me feel chilled just thinking about having to live and survive in such harsh conditions. There were still a few fluffy clouds when I took this image and I quite liked how they created this lovely pastel blue background with interest added because of those clouds.

Barn Owl perched on a Kestrel nestboxBarn Owl perched on a Kestrel nest box – Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

I photographed this Barn Owl perched on a snow-covered Kestrel nest box yesterday morning, the hoar-frost is still visible on the owl’s facial disc and that was at 9:51 am. The temperature around that time had risen to about 6 degrees Fahrenheit. My right hand was bare while I photographed this owl and before leaving the owl my hand had gone numb, later I felt relief when my hand started to hurt as they warmed back up.

Barn Owls also fly during the day when they have chicks in the nest, especially large broods when they can’t catch enough prey at night to feed all of those hungry owlets.

They are gorgeous owls and I feel like I have been given a gift whenever I can photograph them during the day, I hope they survive this latest polar blast.


PS: it is -4F a few minutes before this post was published.

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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. Pingback: Posts from the Past – Owls

  2. Pingback: Barn Owl on a foggy morning | Mia McPherson's On The Wing Photography

  3. Hi! Love all the beautiful pictures of such Owls! Love the one on the box best! The colors,details and frost is so well done Mia!

  4. Fantastic images, sad that so many of these birds wont survive the winter

  5. Great photos! The first picture with the background that has similar colors that the Barn Owl has is amazing!


  6. Beautiful wingspreads and poses, gorgeous bird!

  7. I think these are some my favorite images of yours, they are stunning photos.

  8. Merrill Ann Gonzales

    Watch out for frost bite, Mia… It happens so fast you don’t even know it happens. I have one toe that got nipped pretty bad one year. While your photos and your art are extraordinary, still, please be safe.
    I must say these gorgeous birds have been fully brought to life in these photos. Many thanks.

  9. An amazing series of photos, Mia! You captured such detail in them. Hope you see some warmer weather this week (unless that means another inversion…) :-)

    • Tami, unfortunately we had only a few clear days and the inversion came back. Might last another 6 days or so. Still cold, saw 5F degrees this morning. Thanks for commenting!

  10. Wonderful Images Mia!.. I especially like the side profile shot, a great aerodynamic design in view.

  11. The Barn Owls are one of my favourites, brilliant photos.

  12. Seeing owls is indeed a gift, one I have not yet experienced at least with a camera. You did a fabulous job and I’ve never ever seen such great shots of them in flight. They look kind of like a flying torpedo don’t they? haha The last shot though I think is my favorite, the frost, the color and the lighting! Nice job Mia!

  13. Wow!!! I love these! My favorite is #3. Wonderful work, Mia. These are such beautiful birds!

  14. We are just a bit north of their range. It is always a gift to see one, your image with the hoarfrost is SPLENDID, thank you for sharing!

  15. Stunning images Mia! What a great series. One of my favorite owls. I used to band a few of them at Cape May.

  16. woow, so beautifull, excelent serie mia ☺

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