Barred Owl

Strix varia (Strix: Latin, “screech owl,” which this genus is NOT; Greek, “an owl.”)
Prepared by: 
Ann Walton
  • Length: 16-24 inches           
  • Wingspan: 38-50 inches
  • Weight: male: 468-774 g; female: 610-1051 g

Adult males and females have similar coloring.  A large gray-brown, bulky owl, with a puffy, dome-shaped head; liquid dark eyes and grayish facial disks. Head, neck, and ruffed upper breast barred cross-wise in various shades of brown; rest of underparts vertically streaked in dark brown.  Back is grayish brown with white spotting.

Immature initially covered with white down, later changing to buff with light barring covering entire body. The common call is 8 accented hoots: ”Who-cooks-for-you; who-cooks-for-youall…”

 

Subspecies: 
Five recognized; three in US, varia (nominate) found in midwest.
Distribution: 
Southeastern Alaska through British Columbia and southern Canada, recently spreading to Washington, western Montana, Oregon, western Idaho, and California; then south throughout eastern half of US. A disjointed population in central plateau of Mexico south to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Habitat: 
Found in dense mature coniferous or mixed upland and lowland forests, preferring river bottom or swampy woodlands. Requires nearby open country for hunting, using the thick, protected forests for daytime roosting.
Feeding: 
A diverse diet, preferring small mammals, such as mice, voles, wood rats, chipmunks, shrews, and squirrels. Will take opossum and small rabbits. Also included in diet is a variety of insects(beetles, crickets, moths), snakes, lizards, salamanders, frogs, small to medium birds(finches to quail), bats, and smaller owls. Will wade in shallow water for fish. It is diurnal, and hunts by diving upon the prey from an elevated perch, often flying or running after an unsuccessful catch.
Breeding: 
February-May. Prefers natural tree cavity; will use old hawk, squirrel, or crow nest. Will use nest boxes. Often nests in close proximity to Red-shouldered Hawks with some evidence of communal or mixed clutch nesting. Presence of large trees a requirement; great site fidelity. Clutch is 2-4 eggs.
Movements: 
Sedentary, but occasional mass movements during severe cold spells
Status: 
Some general decline in east and southeast US due to habitat destruction, but the expansion to western coastal Spotted Owl territory seems to keep the total population relatively stable.