Originally found in the Northeasternpart of the United States, the Barred Owl has become widespread throughout North America and a large part of southern Canada.
The Barred Owl may be most easily identified by its hooting call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” Chances are that you have heard a Barred Owl, but never actually seen one perched in a tree. Their brown and white striped plumage provides prefect camouflage making them hard to see in the tree canopy as they snooze through the daytime hours. Silent in flight, Barred Owls are weary of close contact and you may not even notice one flying off to safety. Barred Owls are large, ranging 16-24 inches in height. Their wingspan can measure anywhere from 39–45 inches in length and they can weigh 16–37 oz. Their heads are rounded, their ears lack tufts and they have rounded tails.
The Barred Owls diet is comprised of a wide array of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds and insects. They are keen night hunters that sit and wait on elevated perches scanning for their prey. Barred Owls have a 270 degree range of head motion, incredible eyesight and hearing that they use to patiently scan for their prey. Although Barred Owls do most of their hunting right after sunset and throughout the night, it is not uncommon for them to feed during the day time hours. They swallow small prey whole and large prey in pieces, eating the head first and then the body.
You are probably already aware that Owls regurgitate pellets which are the undigested parts their food. Examine an Owl pellet and you will likely find hair and bones. Bet you thought that Owls were the only birds to produce pellets. Many kinds of birds produce pellets including birds of prey, crows, sparrows and warblers. When a bird eats prey that contains bones or fur, the indigestible material will collect in its stomach until the bird purges the material.
The breeding season for Barred Owls can last from February to August, but this is dependent on the region. Barred Owls are monogamous and live alone except during the mating season or when raising young. As the breeding season approaches, the males begin to chase after females while giving a variety of calls. Males try to entice their little lady by swaying back and forth and raising their wings while they slide along a branch. The clutch size usually has 2 to 3 eggs and the incubation is done exclusively by the female. The incubation period lasts anywhere from 28 to 33 days. When the young are about 4-5 weeks old they begin to leave the nest by venturing out onto nearby branches. Although the young fledge at about 6 weeks old they may receive additional support from their parents for as long as 4 months.
Barred Owls don’t migrate; they live year round in mixed forests of large trees, commonly near a water source. Barred Owls prefer to live in unfragmented mature forests. It is thought that they choose this habitat because it contains trees with large nesting cavities and a high diversity of available prey. Their preferred habitats range from swamps to streams and upland environments, and may contain a very large diversity of tree species.
Owls often will fly to their favorite snag to begin the early evening hunt. If you are really keen to see a Barred Owl start your search by identifying areas that the birds are most likely to feed. Equip yourself with binoculars or a spotting scope and scan snags or perches in trees for something that looks out of place and be sure to keep your ears open. Patience and persistence will be key to sighting one of these interesting birds.