For the Birds: Barred Owls — Denizen of Long Winter Nights

Friday, January 21, 2022

Photo by Elaine Chuang

By Christine Southwick

Barred Owls are noisy owls, frequently making contact calls with their long-term mates, or maybe just making comments. They have a distinctive “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all…?” call, but they will often make kind of a barking sound, and other sounds that vary upon their mood.

They are a medium-large owl, with dark eyes and a smooth head, and require lots of trees. They prefer old-growth forests, but readily move into second-growth forests, especially damp ones which have more prey. Their preferred meals are voles, shrews and mice, rats, young rabbits and moles. They will eat small fish, frogs, and larger insects.
They have large, feathered talons.
Photo by Elaine Chuang
Females are larger than males and may weigh up to a fluffy two pounds. So no, they can’t take your dog.

They prefer to sit on a prominent branch and wait for prey to come into their visual range before silently swooping down and capturing the prey with their strong feathered talons.

Owls hunt silently due to the noise-canceling evolution of their feathers. The leading edge of their wing feathers has comb-like serrations, and the trailing edge has a soft fringe to break up the sound produced by their large wings. Additionally, all owls have a unique velvety feather texture.

Give owls space. Photo by Elaine Chuang
Their large eyes and sensitive hearing allow them to locate their small prey. Dark cloudy days they may be seen hunting before dark, especially once breeding season begins in about March.

The female lays two-three eggs, two-three days apart, and starts brooding them as they are laid, unlike most birds which don’t start brooding their clutch until all are laid. 

The significance of brooding from the first egg means that the nestlings are different ages- in a nest with three eggs the first would be six-nine days older than the youngest.

"Here's lookin' at you, kid!" Photo by Elaine Chuang
The male brings food to his mate and nestlings until the youngsters leave the nest at about four weeks, but they don’t fly for a week or more after “branching,” the term used when they crawl out on a nearest branch using their beaks and talons. 

Both parents care for their offspring for usually four months, which is much longer than most owls.

Cavity nesters, Barred Owls need large old trees with holes. They will use nest boxes (unlike their only natural enemy the Great Horned Owl).


Unknown January 23, 2022 at 10:24 AM  

Wonderful story and photos. I've shared it with my neighborhood group. Thank you!

Anonymous,  January 25, 2022 at 8:23 PM  

Great article, Chris, as always. We have to be grateful for Barred Owls (BADO), for they are by far our most 'approachable' (viewable) owl, and thus they thrill birders of all stripes (plumages?) more regularly than any other. But, the word "aggressive" comes to mind. In their successful gradual expansion of range, shall we forgive their predation of smaller owls such as the Northern Spotted? BADO control is now being implemented, a thought that feels tough on individuals. But we must monitor and act at the species level ... especially because it is 'our' mucking about with habitats that heavily presses threatened species from the other direction.

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