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.


  1. hummingbirdlover January 16, 2013 at 10:57 am

    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!

  2. Susan January 14, 2013 at 7:13 pm

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

    • Mia McPherson January 19, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      Susan, it is sad that many of these birds won’t survive this winter if it doesn’t warm up and melt some of this snow. The cycle of life continues I suppose.

  3. Sam Brunson January 14, 2013 at 7:03 pm

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


    • Mia McPherson January 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm

      Thank you Sam, I love that image with the phrags in the background too.

  4. M. Firpi January 14, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Beautiful wingspreads and poses, gorgeous bird!

    • Mia McPherson January 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm

      Thanks Maria, they are gorgeous birds!

  5. Prairie Birder January 14, 2013 at 11:37 am

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

    • Mia McPherson January 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm

      Thanks Charlotte, I had so much fun creating these photographs and I am happy to know you enjoy them.

  6. Merrill Ann Gonzales January 14, 2013 at 10:27 am

    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.

    • Mia McPherson January 19, 2013 at 4:18 pm

      Thank you Merrill, I try very hard to make sure I don’t get frost bite, it sounds extremely painful.

  7. Tami Vogel (@_CabinGirl) January 14, 2013 at 9:40 am

    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…) 🙂

    • Mia McPherson January 19, 2013 at 4:18 pm

      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!

  8. Azstu January 14, 2013 at 8:24 am

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

  9. Bob Bushell January 14, 2013 at 8:16 am

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

    • Mia McPherson January 19, 2013 at 4:16 pm

      Thanks Bob, they are wonderful creatures.

  10. Sherry in MT January 14, 2013 at 8:03 am

    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!

    • Mia McPherson January 19, 2013 at 4:16 pm

      Sherry, they do look like a flying torpedo at times! I was hoping to get more images of them today but they stayed too far away.

  11. Beverly Everson January 14, 2013 at 7:10 am

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

    • Mia McPherson January 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      Thank you Beverly, I agree!

  12. judy watson January 14, 2013 at 5:56 am

    I love your barn owls!

    • Mia McPherson January 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm

      Thank you Judy, they are such fun.

  13. Deb Tracy-Kral January 14, 2013 at 5:40 am

    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!

  14. Elijah Goodwin January 14, 2013 at 4:39 am

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

    • Mia McPherson January 19, 2013 at 4:13 pm

      Thanks Elijah, they are great owls and so very photogenic too. Banding them must have been interesting.

  15. eric c11 January 14, 2013 at 4:07 am

    woow, so beautifull, excelent serie mia ☺

Comments are closed.