Found in forests from southern Mexico to Argentina, this owl was known to the Aztecs for sounding like “tiles clinking together”. Instead of hooting, they primarily produce a rapid knocking or tooting sound. Because of this call they are called “Coffin Makers” in parts of their range. Imported to England more than 150 years ago, it has long been a popular bird in captivity, and has bred in a number of collections, including the DWA. Young birds have a black mask that eventually retracts to the adult’s face pattern.
Found all the way from the prairies of Southern Canada to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America, this is one of the most widespread birds of the New World. Throughout this vast range, it lives in holes in the ground. Though often awake in the daytime, its favorite times to hunt are dusk and dawn. Its prey is mostly insects and rodents. It thrives in captivity, and has bred at the DWA and in other collections. In mythology, owls were messengers of the Mayan Underworld, and companions of the Aztec Death God.
Famed as the “Owl with the Southern Accent”, its call (frequently heard around Dallas) has been paraphrased as “Who Cooks for You-all!”. Traditionally a bird of the eastern US, with an isolated population in Southern Mexico, in recent years it has spread to the Pacific Northwest, where it out-competes and hybridizes with the threatened Northern Spotted owl. Barred owls thrive in suburbs, and quickly invade habitats where primary forest has been destroyed. They are more likely than other owls to be seen in the day time. Most of their prey is rodents.
Instead of a screech, this bird actually produces a rather gentle-sounding descending trill. Being small, it is prone to being eaten by other owls. On the other hand, they are not much disturbed by human activities, and are common in suburbs. Normally nesting in holes in trees, they readily use man-made sites, including all sorts of abandoned structures. This leads to the frequent discovery of young birds by demolition teams and home-owners that turn them over to rehabilitators, thus making them very common in zoos and nature centers.