Barred Owl (Strix varia)

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    In the daytime, an owl sitting inconspicuously in a tree is frequently mobbed by a noisy flock of scolding small birds, a sure tip-off to an owl watcher. The barred owl’s far-carrying, rhythmic hooting is often written as Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all? The bird also gives a hair-raising cat-like scream. The barred owl is a species sometimes considered the nocturnal equivalent of the red-shouldered hawk, both nesting in suburban and urban areas.


    One of the largest owls in North America, this species averages 17 inches in length and has wingspans of about 44 inches. The barred owl is one of the four species that have dark rather than yellow eyes. The head is rounded, almost spherical in appearance, and below the head is the zone of horizontal barrings for which the bird is named. Below the barrings, the breast is vertically streaked with brown. The principal visual distinction between the barred and the great horned owl is the ear tufts, absent on the barred. Its feet are rather small, being suited to small prey such as voles, mice, shrews, frogs, snakes and crawfish.


    As a sit-and-wait predator, the owl swivels its head around, while tipping it to the side, before bobbing it from side to side and up and down. By doing this, it swiftly locates the exact source of the sounds – a vole or a mice rustling in the grass. Spreading its wings, the owl drops from its perch, swooping low to avoid detection. Its feathers are designed to muffle the sound of the air so that the approach of a large bird is silent.


    The barred owls lay two to three eggs directly on the bottom of a hollow of decayed or broken trees, using the same nest site for many years. Youngs leave the nest way before they can fly.

    Distribution & Habitat

    Competition with barred owls is an important factor contributing to the decline of the northern spotted owl. The distribution of barred owls has expanded from their historical range within the deciduous forests of eastern North America into western coniferous forests during the recent past. They now occur throughout the range of the northern spotted owl, and much of the range of the California spotted owl. Potential effects of expanding barred owl populations on spotted owls include displacement.

    Video Credits: Sarah Chrisman
    Image Credits: Mdf, WikiMedia


    1. Tom Warhol – Owls
    2. Singleton et al. – Barred Owl Space Use And Habitat Selection In The Eastern Cascades, Washington


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