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Barred Owl

November 15, 2023

The Barred Owl, also known as the Strix varia, is a large, majestic owl found throughout North America. This remarkable bird has captured the imagination of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts for centuries due to its striking appearance, unique vocalizations, and intriguing behaviors. In this educational blog, we will explore the size and shape, color pattern, behavior, habitat, and fascinating facts about the Barred Owl, as well as the ecosystem services it provides and the importance of conservation efforts for this species.


Size and Shape

The Barred Owl is a relatively large owl, with a body length ranging from 16 to 25 inches (40 to 63 cm) and a wingspan of 38 to 50 inches (96 to 127 cm). This robust bird has a round head, lacking the ear tufts found on many other owl species. Its eyes are dark brown, almost black, and are surrounded by a ring of lighter feathers, giving it a distinctive, expressive appearance.

The Barred Owl has a sturdy, barrel-shaped body that is well-adapted for its nocturnal hunting lifestyle. Its powerful wings enable it to fly silently through the night, while its strong legs and sharp talons allow it to capture and hold onto prey with ease. Overall, the Barred Owl's size and shape make it an efficient and effective hunter in its natural habitat.


Color Pattern

The Barred Owl's plumage is characterized by a mix of brown, gray, and white colors, which provide excellent camouflage in its forested habitat. The upperparts of the bird are a mottled brown and gray, with white bars running across the wings and tail. The underparts are light gray to white, with horizontal brown barring on the chest and vertical brown streaks on the belly.

The Barred Owl's facial disk is pale gray, with a distinct white ring surrounding its dark brown eyes. The combination of colors and patterns in the Barred Owl's plumage not only provides excellent camouflage but also makes it a visually striking and easily identifiable species among birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.



Barred Owls are primarily nocturnal, which means they are most active during the night. They spend their days roosting in trees, often concealed by dense foliage, and emerge at dusk to begin hunting. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, such as mice, squirrels, and rabbits, as well as birds, amphibians, and invertebrates.

The Barred Owl has a wide range of vocalizations, including hoots, cackles, and screams. Its most well-known call is a series of rhythmic hoots that sound like "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?" These vocalizations are used to communicate with potential mates, establish territory, and maintain contact with family members.

During the breeding season, Barred Owls engage in courtship behaviors, including duetting, mutual preening, and nest site selection. The female lays a clutch of two to four eggs, which both parents incubate and care for, raising their young together.



Barred Owls inhabit a variety of forested habitats across North America, from mature deciduous and mixed forests to swampy areas and wooded river bottoms. They prefer large tracts of mature forests with an abundance of tall trees for roosting and nesting, as well as nearby water sources for hunting aquatic prey.

The Barred Owl's range extends from eastern and central North America, including southern Canada, the eastern United States, and parts of the Pacific Northwest and northern California. In recent decades, the Barred Owl has expanded its range into the western United States, where it has come into contact with the closely related and threatened Spotted Owl. This range expansion and competition for resources have raised concerns about the potential impact of the Barred Owl on Spotted Owl populations.



  1. Barred Owls do not build their own nests. Instead, they typically use natural cavities in trees or take over abandoned nests of other large birds, such as hawks or crows.
  2. The Barred Owl is one of the few owl species that is known to be a strong swimmer. In rare cases, they have been observed diving into water to catch fish and other aquatic prey.
  3. Unlike many other owl species, Barred Owls have dark brown eyes, rather than the more common yellow or orange.
  4. Barred Owls are known to occasionally hunt during the day, especially when raising young and needing to provide more food for their growing offspring.
  5. The oldest known Barred Owl in the wild lived to be at least 18 years old, but most individuals have a life expectancy of around 10 years.


Ecosystem Services

Barred Owls play a crucial role in the ecosystems they inhabit, providing valuable ecosystem services as both predators and prey. As predators, they help control populations of small mammals and other prey species, contributing to a balanced and healthy ecosystem. Their predation on rodents, in particular, can benefit human populations by reducing the spread of diseases and damage to agricultural crops.

In turn, Barred Owls also serve as prey for larger predators, such as Great Horned Owls and larger raptors. Additionally, their nests, abandoned after the breeding season, can provide valuable nesting sites for other bird species and small mammals. Overall, the presence of Barred Owls in an ecosystem is an indicator of a healthy and diverse environment.



The Barred Owl is a fascinating and important bird species in North America, playing a critical role in the ecosystems it inhabits. With its unique appearance, intriguing behavior, and wide range of vocalizations, this captivating bird has captured the interest and admiration of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. Understanding and appreciating the Barred Owl's natural history and ecological importance is essential for promoting conservation efforts and ensuring the continued survival of this remarkable species.