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Barred owl

Strix varia

Description: The Barred owl is the only typical owl found in the eastern United States which has brown eyes – all others have yellow eyes. The head is round and the pale face has dark rings around the eyes. The beak is yellow and almost covered by feathers. There are no ear tufts. The upper parts are mottled grayish-brown. The underparts are light with markings; the chest has horizontal bars but the belly is barred lengthwise. The legs and feet are covered in feathers up to the talons. The dark brown back is spotted with white and the long tail is crossed with six or seven sharply defined bands of pale brown. There is no difference in plumage between the males and the larger females.

Size: The Barred owl is a medium-sized owl. Males are between 17-20 inches (43-51 cm) in length; females are 20 – 24 inches (51-61 cm). Males weigh 1-1.5 pounds (0.45-0.68 kg); females are 1.5-1.75 pounds (0.68-0.79 kg). The wingspan varies from 40-46 inches (102-117 cm) in males; 45–50 inches (114-127 cm) in females.

Behavior: The Barred owl is a nocturnal hunter. They are found in solitary sites for most of the year, only living in familial groups from the breeding season until the young leave the nest. They will call to other members of the species in the area, if disturbed. Their calls are very important in the mating ritual.

Diet: Diet includes voles, mice, shrews, rabbits, rats, squirrels, bats, opossums, mink, weasels,
small birds, snakes, frogs and insects. Barred owls usually eat their prey on the spot but will take larger prey to a feeding perch and tear it apart before eating. They can sometimes be seen hunting before dark, particularly during the nesting season or on dark and cloudy days. They will often use a perch from which to dive upon their prey. They cannot catch birds on the wing. They will also swoop down to the water’s edge to catch frogs, other amphibians and occasionally fish.

Senses: Barred owls use their keen senses of vision and hearing to detect prey.

Communication: A very vocal species with an easily recognizable nine syllable call – “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” known as a two-phrase hoot. They 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.

Reproduction: Breeding season occurs from December to March. Barred owls are monogamous, pairing for life. Although they prefer to nest in tree cavities, they have been known to use empty nests of other animals. A clutch of two to three eggs will be laid in the nest; the female incubates the altricial eggs for 28-33 days, while the male hunts for her. Nestlings are brooded by the female for three weeks and fed by the male. The eyes of the young open after seven days and at four to five weeks the young will leave the nest and move about to nearby branches. The young will fly at six weeks. Parental care is provided for up to six months.

Habitat/range: They prefer deep moist forests, wooded swamps and woodlands near waterways where they find heavy mature woods with nearby open country for foraging. They roost during the day in densely foliated trees, trees with year-round leaves for winter roosting and trees with suitable cavities for nesting. Strix varia is found throughout southwestern Canada, Washington, Oregon and northern California. Its range extends throughout the eastern United States including Florida and Texas.

Status: Listed as Least Concern (LC) IUCN; CITES Appendix II.