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Home > Blog > Wildlife of the Week > The Opportunistic Barred Owl: Wildlife of the Week – 2022 Week 17

Posted: May 1, 2022

Our Wildlife of the Week – 2022 Week 17…

Meet the “Barred Owl”!

(Strix Varia)
Barred Owl in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Barred Owl in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Barred Owl Physical Description

Barred Owls are a large, round-headed woodland owl with a grey-white facial disc. Its plumage is grey-brown with buff-white edges and subterminal (near the end) bars. Barred Owls have brown eyes and lack ear tufts. The neck and upper breast have transverse barring and the belly contains vertical brown streaks. Barred Owls are dimorphic (the existence of two different forms of a species especially in the same population) in body size.1

Males are 18.9 in (48 cm) in length and have a mean weight of 1.4 lbs (630 g), whereas females are 20.1 in (51 cm) in length and have an average weight of 1.8 lbs (800 g). The wingspan of Barred Owls are between 42.1 and 43.7 in (107 and 111 cm). Juveniles are a red-brown color with buff barring on the neck. Barred Owls are a very vocal species with an easily recognizable 9 syllable call; “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”.1

Barred owl chicks at nest just prior to fledging
Barred owl chicks at nest just prior to fledging

Barred Owls are monogamous, pairing for life. Barred Owls form mated pairs that stay together for life.1

Although Barred Owls prefer to nest in tree cavities, this species is known to use empty hawk nests, crows nests, or squirrel nests. A clutch of usually two to three eggs (range is from 1 to 5) will be laid in the nest. The female incubates the eggs for 28-33 days. Young do not all hatch at the same time, since egg laying occurs over a period of days and incubation begins immediately. While the female incubates eggs the male will hunt for her. Barred Owls are capable of breeding at about 2 years of age.1

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Barred Owl In Action

Barred Owl in Flight
Barred Owl in Flight

Barred Owls are primarily a nocturnal hunter, although they have been reported active during the day. Barred Owls live alone for most of the year, only living in family groups from the breeding season until the young leave the nest. Mated pairs typically live in adjoining home ranges, with the degree of overlap between home ranges increasing during the breeding season. They will call to other members of the species in the area if disturbed. Barred Owls are territorial and do not range widely unless food scarcity causes them to move farther in search of prey. They do not migrate.1

Barred Owls are very vocal species with an easily recognizable 9 syllable call: “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”, called a two-phrase hoot. Barred Owls also communicate with other calls, including the begging calls of nestlings, ascending hoots, and caterwauling, which is typically uttered by mating pairs during duets and occasionally when subduing large prey. Barred Owls also probably communicate through some visual signals, through body language.1

Barred Owls use their keen senses of vision and hearing to detect prey from their perches.1

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Where to Spot Barred Owl

Barred Owl in Everglades National Park
Barred Owl in Everglades National Park

Barred Owls are arboreal, living in coniferous forests near water source, and wooded swamps. They require dense foliage for daytime roosting and large trees with cavities for nesting. Their reliance on large tree cavities means that populations of barred owls are dependent on the presence of old growth forests throughout much of their range.1

However, in the Pacific Northwest, where they have been expanding their range in recent years, they readily accept second growth tree cavities. Their close relatives, spotted owls, rely on old growth forests in this region. This has had the effect, in recent years, of increasing the likelihood of interspecific competition in the Pacific Northwest between resident spotted owl populations and new barred owl populations. Some hybridization between the species has also occurred. The overall effect is to stress an already endangered species, spotted owls.1

Barred Owls are found throughout southwestern Canada, Washington, Oregon and northern California. Its range extends throughout the eastern United States including Florida and Texas. Barred owls have expanded their range into western Canada and the United States during the twentieth century, probably as a result of human modifications of landscapes in those regions.1

The Barred Owl can be found in over 23 National Parks and many other National Park Service sites.2 Including:

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Barred Owl Conservation Status

Barred Owl in Congaree National Park
Barred Owl in Congaree National Park

Barred Owls have been successfully expanding its range in past decades into the Pacific Northwest, where it comes into contact and competition with its close relative, Strix occidentalis, Spotted Owls. Competition and hybridization between these species stresses the already endangered populations of Spotted Owls.1

Barred Owls are important predators of small animals in the ecosystems in which they live. Barred Owls feed on small mammals, which helps keep the population of crop damaging rodents under control in rural areas.1


Barred Owl and You

Have you seen a Barred Owl in it’s natural environment? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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Interested in Wildlife Photography???
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National Geographic Photo Basics The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Great Photography

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‘We got some of the above information from the following:
1: Animal Diversity Web – Strix Varia – Barred Owl
2: NPSpecies – Find Parks Where a Species is Found

Check out these recent posts from Discover Our Parks:

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