|Conservation status||Least concern|
The barred owl (Strix varia), is the common owl of North America, and until the beginning of the 20th century was restricted to the forests east of the Great Plains.
Barred owls are stocky in build. They are between 16-25 inches in length, bearing a 38-50 inch wingspan, and weigh up to 1.5 pounds; females are slightly larger than males. Like other wood owls of the genus Strix they have no ear tufts. Their heads are rounded, bearing whitish and light tan rings on the facial disk. They have large, dark brown eyes and a distinctive hooked yellow or white bill. The upper chest has horizontal or crosswise barred pattern, becoming on the lower chest and belly a series of vertical brown streaks on a light tan background.
The loud hooting calls are a series of clear notes and a descender: hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo-ho-hoooooaw, which has become by means of folklore transliterated as ”who cooks for you, who cooks for you all.”
- Strix varia georgica
- Strix varia helveola
- Strix varia sartorii
- Strix varia varia
Barred owls use a perch to locate and catch prey, which include small mammals up to the size of rabbits, birds, frogs, reptiles, and insects. They have also been seen catching fish, either by dropping down from above or wading into streams. Barred owls swallow small prey whole; larger prey is rendered into smaller pieces.
Barred owls are monogamous, preferring long-term pair-bonds. They are also sedentary, establishing territories and nesting in one particular area year-round. Nesting occurs within tree cavities or man-made nest boxes; they also re-use abandoned raptor or crow nests, doing little to change the nest itself beyond adding fresh pine sprigs or lichen.
A clutch of 2 to 3 white eggs are laid, with incubation period of up to 33 days done exclusively by the female; both parents feed their young, which remain in the nest until fledge some six weeks later.
Habitat and range
Barred owls live in dense, mixed-species woodlands, consisting of either deciduous hardwoods (hemlock, maple, oak, hickory, beech, aspen, etc.) or pines (white spruce, Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, etc.). They prefer mature trees, often near water, and supporting a large number of prey animals.
The barred owl’s original habitat was the forested areas of the eastern United States and Canada, and until the late-1800s it never expanded westward due to the Great Plains. In addition to the lack of trees, current hypothesis suggest this was partially the result of selective burning by Native Americans, which ended with the arrival and expansion of Americans of European ancestry. So-called “habitat bridges” were created across the plains, i.e. trees growing unimpeded by fire, and allowing the barred owl to move into the west. Moving into Canada across the northern plains, they were first observed in British Columbia in 1949; in the following years they were seen in Washington, Oregon, and northern California. A National Park Service report stated they had become established in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, in 2002, and the Redwood National Park.