The barred owl is a true owl found in eastern North America. They are often referred to as the northern barred owl or the striped owl but sometimes are called the “hoot owl” in an informal manner. Initially, these owls lived only in eastern North America. But, due to their highly adaptive nature, the barred owl is now found in the western part of the continent as well. This has caused them to infringe on the territories of species like the spotted owl.
Weight: Male: 1.032 to 1.790 lb (468 to 812 g) Female: 1.34 to 2.54 lb (610 to 1,150 g)
Wingspan: 38 to 49 in (96 to 125 cm)
Body and Coloration: These owls have brown eyes, which is uncommon among true owls, who have yellow eyes. They have a large head, a pale straw-yellow bill, and dark gray, black-tipped talons. The females are larger than males, which is the reverse of most raptorial birds.
Their overall coloration is grayish-brown or brown, with white spotting on their wings. The face is pale brownish-gray, with subtly dark concentric lines, and the tail is a mottled brown and white.
Barred owls are found in most parts of southern Canada and the eastern United States. These include Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec in Canada and Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, New England, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas in the United States.
Some have even been spotted down in Mexico.
These owls prefer coniferous forests with dense foliage and large trees with cavities. However, as a result of expanding, they have been spotted in the hollows of trees found in deciduous and mixed forests as well.
The barred owls are generalist predators and opportunistic feeders, primarily targeting small animals that they can swallow whole. Their prey includes birds such as barn swallows, grouses, purple martins, and indigo buntings, as well as fish, frogs, lizards, mice, rats, squirrels, voles, muskrats, pocket gophers etc.
These owls live for 8-10 years on average. The longest-lived barred owl in the wild survived for 18 years.
Unlike most other owls, they are not entirely nocturnal, being active at certain times of the day, such as early morning and at dusk.
Barred owls are quite aggressive, screeching and chasing away any intruders in their territory.
The call of this owl is somewhat unique, being a series of eight accented hoots ok-ok-ok-ok-ok-buhooh or alternately a two phrase hoot with a downward pitch. These are used to communicate with and warn each other.
During the day, they roost in shady places to avoid heat stress.
Some barred owls have been observed preening their partner in the wild.
The owls claim territories ranging from 200-400 acres by singing duets. Once claimed, they will fiercely defend it from any intruders.
The deadliest predator of the barred owl is the great horned owl, with the former re-locating whenever the latter arrives in its territory. Other predators include northern goshawks, who hunt the adults while climbing mammals like raccoons and weasels target eggs and chicks in their nests.
Similar to other owls, their feathers are adapted to silent flight, with the primary feathers arranged in a comb formation. This diverts the air into tiny airstreams, allowing quicker movement while flying.
Their eyes are very large, making up 5% of the bird’s total weight. This allows for binocular vision giving it remarkable eyesight.
The feet of the barred owl are arranged in a raptorial position – three talons in the front and one in the back. This gives them an effective grip to hold on to branches as well as prey.
They have strong hearing courtesy of the extra auditory neurons present in their ears. This allows them to detect moving objects in their surroundings without ever moving their heads.
Mating and Reproduction
They are a monogamous species, mating for life. Mainly pairs are formed by newly mature owls, though sometimes widowed owls form new breeding pairs.
The courtship between two owls involves head bobbing and bowing while raising their wings and calling each other when perched together. Sometimes pre-existing pairs will undergo these courtship rituals again to establish their bond. These pairs will perform a series of mating calls including cawing, cackling, gurgling, and hooting.
Breeding pairs begin copulation between December and March, before which the female enters an inactive state during which the male feeds her. Nesting begins in March.
Normally, the barred owl builds their nests inside the hollow cavity of a tree, around 20-40 ft above the ground. However, they sometimes use pre-owned nests or human-made nest boxes. Prospective sites are scouted out beforehand by the pair, though who constructs the nest remains unknown.
Females begin egg-laying in March at intervals of 2-3 days. Generally, a single clutch has 2-3 eggs, though sometimes 5 have been observed. After an incubation period of 28 days, they hatch. For 3 weeks, the chicks are brooded by their mother while their father hunts and delivers prey to them. Once this time has passed, both parents begin foraging for food for their young until 6 weeks have passed and the juveniles become capable of flight.
Like most birds, the hatchlings are initially altricial. They develop white-tipped buff feathers at around 2-3 weeks which is when they begin developing their wings. At 6 weeks, they begin to explore, sometimes falling from their nests, leaving them vulnerable to predation. Eventually, after 10 weeks, they are ready to leave the nest. Juvenile owls become sexually mature at 2 years.
As per the IUCN, the barred owl is considered “Least Concern” or “LC”. Due to the adaptability of this species, their populations are on the rise.
Due to the vast expansion of the barred owl’s territory, they have led to a decline in the northern spotted owl population. This species was already declining in population due to logging operations, causing a loss in their habitat. But now, as a result of added competition for resources, the spotted owl is classified as “Threatened” or “T” by the ESA (Endangered Species Act of 1973).
The barn owl and barred owl have some similarities, such as the type of prey they prefer and their lack of migratory behavior. But the former is known to live in old buildings and hunt over open spaces, while the latter lives in forests and hunts there.
In 2003, American novelist Michael Peterson was accused of killing his second wife Kathleen and was ultimately convicted though there were doubts about his guilt. One theory that gained traction in recent years was that Kathleen was attacked by a barred owl with specific injuries on her arms resembling talon attacks and some feathers being found close to her body.