RETURN TO ARCHIVES


On The Wing
October 2003


Reprinted from The Owl Pages, where you can find out everything about Owls.

Strix varia

The Barred Owl

The first description of a Barred Owl was published in 1799 by amateur naturalist Benjamin Smith Barton. In Latin, "varia" is a form of the word "varius", meaning diverse. It has also been known as Northern Barred Owl, Swamp Owl, Striped Owl, Hoot Owl, Eight hooter, Round-headed Owl, Le Chat-huant du Nord (French for "The Hooting Cat of the North"), Wood Owl, and Rain Owl.

Description:
The Barred Owl is a medium-sized grey-brown Owl streaked with white horizontal barring on the chest and vertical barring on the belly. They are round-headed with a whitish/brown facial disk with dark brown trim. The eyes are brown, and the beak is yellow and almost covered by feathers. They have a long tail. There is no difference in plumage between males and the larger females.

Size:
Length 40-63 cm (16-25 inches), Wingspan 96-125 cm (38-50 inches), Weight: 500-1050 grams (17½-37 oz) (average male 617g, average female 779g)

Voice:
The Barred Owl is a highly vocal Owl giving a loud and resounding "hoo, hoo, too-HOO; hoo, hoo, too-HOO, ooo" which is often phrased as "Who, cooks, for-you? Who, cooks, for-you, all?" - The last syllable drops off noticeably. Like some other Owl species, they will call in the daytime as well as at night. The calls are often heard in a series of eight, then silence, when the Owl listens for a reply from other Owls. Other calls include "hoo-hoo, hoo-WAAAHH" and "hoo-WAAAHHH" used in courtship. Mates will duet, but the male's voice is deeper and mellower. Many other vocalisations are made which range from a short yelp or bark to a frenzied and raucous monkey-like squall.

Hunting & Food:
A very opportunistic hunter, a Barred Owl can sometimes be seen hunting before dark. This typically occurs during the nesting season or on dark and cloudy days. A Barred Owl will use a perch, from where it dives upon its prey - meadow voles are its main prey, followed by shrews and deer mice. Other mammals include rats, squirrels, young rabbits, bats, moles, opossums, mink, and weasels. Birds are taken occasionally, including woodpeckers, grouse, quail, jays, blackbirds, and pigeons. They also eats small fish, turtles, frogs, snakes, lizards, crayfish, scorpions, beetles, crickets, and grasshoppers. Birds are taken as they settle into nocturnal roosts, because they cannot catch birds on the wing. They will also swoop down to the water's edge to catch frogs, other amphibians, and occasionally fish. Barred Owls are attracted to campfires and lights where they forage for large insects. Prey is usually devoured on the spot. Larger prey is carried to a feeding perch and torn apart before eating.

Breeding:
Barred Owls calls year-round but courtship activities begin in February with breeding occurring between March and August. Males hoot and females give contact calls. As the nesting season approaches, males chase after females giving a variety of hooting and screeching calls. Males display by swaying back and forth, and raising their wings, while sidling along a branch. Courtship feeding and mutual preening also occur. Barred Owls nest in cavities and will also use abandoned Red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Squirrel, or Crow nests. Eggs number 2-4 and are white, and almost perfectly round, with a slightly rough texture. They are likely laid every 2 to 3 days and incubation begins with the first egg laid. Incubation period is 28-33 days. The Male brings food to the female while she is on the nest. The Barred Owl is single-brooded but has a long breeding season, which allows for laying of replacement clutches if the first clutch or brood is lost. When the young leave the nest, at about 4 weeks, they are not able to fly, but crawl out of the nest using their beak and talons to sit on branches. These Owls are called branchers. They fledge at 35 to 40 days. Once they lose their down, there is no difference between adult and juvenile plumage.
Parents care for the young for at least 4 months, much longer than most other Owls. Young tend to disperse very short distances, usually less than 10 kilometres (6 miles), before settling. Pairs mate for life and territories and nest sites are maintained for many years.

Mortality:
Barred Owls have been known to live up to 23 years in captivity and 10 years in the wild. Most deaths are likely to be related to man (shootings, roadkills etc). Great Horned Owls are their only natural enemy.

Habitat:
Barred Owls prefer deep moist forests, wooded swamps, and woodlands near waterways. Territories are 85-365 hectares (213-903 acres).

Distribution:
The Barred Owl is widespread in North America, they occur across most of the eastern half of the continent from Florida northward to southern Canada; they are also spreading westward in the north of their range, and already occur in Washington State. (Some reports have them as far south as North California). Their spread westward is causing concern as they may compete with the endangered Spotted Owl. Northern populations may be partially migratory depending on food resources.

Subspecies:
There are 4 recognised subspecies of this Owl:
Strix varia varia - the most widely distributed race that occurs from southeastern Alaska and British Columbia east to Nova Scotia, south through the eastern Great Plains to Oklahoma and east to Virginia.
Strix varia georgica - occurs from central Arkansas east to North Carolina and south to eastern Texas and southern Florida.
Strix varia helveola - occurs only in south-central Texas.
Strix varia sartorii - occurs in Mexico.

Websites for raptor information:

www.owling.com

www.enature.com

www.hawktalk.org


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