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barred owl

Strix varia

What do they look like?

Barred owls are large, round-headed, woodland owls with grey-white faces. The plumage is grey-brown with buff-white edges and brown bars on the wings. Barred owls have brown eyes and lack ear tufts. The neck and upper breast have transverse barring and the belly contains vertical brown streaks. Barred owl females are larger than males. Males are 48 cm in length and have a mean weight of 630 g, whereas females are 51cm in length and have an average weight of 800g. The wingspan of barred owls is between 107 and 111 cm. Juveniles are a red-brown color with buff barring on the neck.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    630 to 800 g
    22.20 to 28.19 oz
  • Range length
    48 to 51 cm
    18.90 to 20.08 in
  • Range wingspan
    107 to 111 cm
    42.13 to 43.70 in

Where do they live?

Barred owls are found throughout southwestern Canada, Washington, Oregon and northern California. Their range extends throughout the eastern United States including Florida and Texas. Barred owls have a Nearctic distribution.

What kind of habitat do they need?

Barred owls are arboreal, living in coniferous forests near water sources, and wooded swamps. Including pine, spruce, fir, and cedar forests. They require dense foliage for daytime roosting, and large trees with cavities for nesting. Because barred owls rely on large tree cavities for nests, they are most often found in old growth forests. In areas where logging has reduced the extent of old growth habitats, barred owls may become threatened.

How do they reproduce?

Barred owls form mated pairs that stay together for life.

Although barred owls prefer to nest in tree cavities, this species is known to use empty hawk nests, crows nests, or squirrel nests. A clutch of usually two to three eggs (range is from 1 to 5) will be laid in the nest; the female incubates the eggs for 28-33 days. Young do not all hatch at the same time, since egg laying occured over a period of days and incubation began immediately. While the female incubates eggs the male will hunt for her. Barred owls are capable of breeding at about 2 years of age.

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Barred owls breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season occurs from December to March.
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 5
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    28 to 33 days
  • Range time to independence
    6 (high) months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

Nestlings are brooded by the female for three weeks, and fed by the male. Nestlings' eyes open after seven days, and at four to five weeks the young will leave the nest and venture to nearby branches. At six weeks old the young will learn to fly. Parents care for their young for up to 6 months in barred owls.

How long do they live?

The longest recorded age of a wild barred owl is 18 years and 2 months old. Probably many young barred owls die in their first year or two of life.

How do they behave?

Barred owls are mainly nocturnal hunters, although they may be active during the day. Barred owls live alone for most of the year, only living in family groups from the breeding season until the young leave the nest. Mated pairs usually live in home ranges that are next to each other during the non-breeding part of the year, then share home ranges during the breeding season. They will call to other members of the species in the area if disturbed. Barred owls are territorial and do not range widely unless food scarcity causes them to move farther in search of prey. They do not migrate.

Home Range

How do they communicate with each other?

Barred owls are very vocal species with an easily recognizable 9 syllable call; "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?", called a two-phrase hoot. Barred owls also communicate with other calls, including the begging calls of nestlings, ascending hoots, and caterwauling, which is typically uttered by mating pairs during duets and occasionally when subduing large prey. Barred owls also probably communicate through some visual signals, through body language.

Barred owls use their keen senses of vision and hearing to detect prey from their perches.

What do they eat?

Barred owls are carnivores that eat a wide variety of animal prey. They feed on small mammals up to the size of rabbits, birds as large as grouse, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Barred owls have been observed capturing fish from perches and by wading in shallow water. Barred owls hunt prey that can be swallowed whole. Hunting is mainly done from a perch. Once prey is spotted, barred owls swoop down upon prey and grab it with sharp talons. Like most owls, barred owls store extra prey in tree branches and nests for later consumption.

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Barred owls are preyed on by raccoons and weasels as eggs and nestlings. Adults are sometimes killed by great horned owls, northern goshawks, hit by cars, and captured in traps set for mammals.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Barred owls are important predators of small animals in the ecosystems in which they live.

Do they cause problems?

There are no negative effects of barred owls on humans.

How do they interact with us?

Barred owls feed on small mammals, which helps keep the population of crop damaging rodents under control in rural areas.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Barred owls have been successfully expanding their range in past decades into the Pacific Northwest, where they come into contact and competition with their close relatives, spotted owls. Competition and hybridization between these species stresses the already endangered populations of spotted owls.


Baicich, P., C. Harrison. 1997. A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds. Academic Press Natural World.

Dark, S., R. Gutierrez, G. Gould. Jan 1 1998. The Barred Owl (Strix Varia)Invasion in California. Auk: 50-56.

Del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, J. Sargatal. 1999. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.

Farrand, J. 1983. The Audubon Society Master Guide to Birding. New York: Alferd A. Knopf.

Mathews, B. 1999. "Barred Owls" (On-line). Accessed Dec. 1, 1999 at

Terres, J. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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. "Strix varia" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 19, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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