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Barred Owl - Strix Varia

barred owlBasic Facts
Barred owls are one of the larger owls in this area.  On average, they range in size from 17 to 22 inches, have a 39 - 43 inch wingspan, and weigh 1.5 to 2 pounds.  Unlike most other large owls in this area, they have brown eyes (as opposed to yellow). 

These owls have been found to live up to ten years in the wild and 23 years in captivity. They are possibly the most common owl in this area, and they are often out when it’s light.  So, if you’ve seen a large owl during the day, it was probably a barred owl.

Distribution and habitat
Breeding habitat is dense woods across Canada, the eastern United States and South to Central America. Since the 1960s, barred owls have been expanding their range westward from the eastern United States because man-made changes have created new suitable habitat in the West.  Recent studies show urban neighborhoods can be ideal habitat for barred owls.      

Using transmitters, biologists found that populations increased faster in urban settings than in old growth forest.

The barred owl’s nest is often in a tree cavity.  It may also take over an old nesting site used by a crow or squirrel.  Barred owls are a non-migratory bird but may wander after the nesting season. If a nest site has proved suitable in the past, they’ll often reuse it.

Athena, one of our educational ambassadors, is a barred owl. Read more about Athena and our education program.

Eggs are laid from early-January in the south to mid-April in the north and consist of two to four eggs per clutch. Eggs are brooded by the female with hatching taking place approximately four weeks later.  Young owls fledge (begin to fly) four to five weeks after hatching.  Barred owl parents will care for their young for up to four months, much longer than most owl species.

Sexes are alike in plumage but the female is larger.  Pairs do stay together for life but if one mate is killed the remaining one will find a new mate.

Feeding Habits
Their diet consists of mice, voles, moles, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, foxes, opossums, and birds.  Barred owls occasionally wade into water in order to capture fish or terrapins.  Young barred owls practice their hunting skills by capturing insects such as grasshoppers.  The barred owl hunts by waiting on a high perch or flying through the woods and swooping down on prey. 

Interesting Facts
The belly feathers of some barred owls are pink. This coloring may be the result of eating a lot of crayfish.

Barred owl populations have expanded westward in the last century, in some locations into the range of the endangered spotted owl which is a close cousin of the barred owl.  Hybrids of the two species (barred and spotted owls) have been found.   There is some belief that barred owls are one of the factors in the decline of spotted owls.

Great horned owls are the most serious predatory threat to the barred owl. Although they often live in the same areas, the barred owl will avoid parts of its territory occupied by a great horned owl.

Of the North American owls, the barred owl is the species most likely to be active during the day, especially when raising chicks or when food is scarce in the winter months.

Common causes of injury include collision with cars, toxins from eating mice that were poisoned, kite string in trees, discarded fishing line, volley ball and soccer nets, and attacks from crows.

Read more about owls.

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