Barred Owl

Strix varia

Barred Owl - Strix varia Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge - November, 2006

Barred Owl – Strix varia
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Even though we rarely see these birds, we love hearing them at night. The Barred Owl is the ‘Who Cooks For You’ bird – who_who who_whoooo.  Sleeping with open windows on cool nights gives a great opportunity to hear these owls calling in the middle of the night.  Sometimes it sounds like they are so close they are perched on the window sill.

And being such good nighttime hunters they help keep the rodent population in check.  The Barred Owl is a generalist predator. The principal prey of this owl are meadow voles, followed by mice and shrews of various species.  Other mammals preyed upon include rats, squirrels, rabbits, bats, moles, and opossums.  A Barred Owl was photographed in Minnesota in 2012 grabbing and flying off with a full-grown domestic cat, a semi-regular prey item for the Great Horned Owl but previously unknown to be taken by this species. [1]

The Barred Owl hunts by waiting on a high perch at night, or flying through the woods and swooping down on prey. A Barred Owl can sometimes be seen hunting before dark.  This typically occurs during the nesting season or on dark and cloudy days.  The Barred Owl is crepuscular in its hunting habits, which means that it generally hunts near dawn or dusk. [1]

The ones we have here in Peachtree Park have been nesting here for a while; Barred Owls don’t migrate.  Recent studies show suburban neighborhoods can be ideal habitat for Barred Owls. Using transmitters, scientists found that populations increased faster in the suburban settings than in old growth forest.  A factor of this suburban success may be easily accessible rodent prey in such settings. However, for breeding and roosting needs, this species needs at least some large trees and can be locally absent in some urban areas for this reason.  The main danger to owls in suburban settings is from cars. [1]

Barred Owl

Barred Owl – Strix varia
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Its most serious predatory threat comes from another owl, the Great Horned Owl. [3]

Because the Barred Owl operates mostly at night, It’s hard to get pictures.  The only photos we have is of a Barred Owl taken in the Okefenokee swamp who roosted in a tree during the day near a boardwalk and watched the comings and goings.

But we did make these recordings of Barred Owls moving around and talking to each other in our yard at night.  The first is of the ‘who cooks for you’ call and the second is of two caterwauling; we call them ‘howler monkey’ calls.  Cornell says this about these calls “During courtship, mated pairs perform a riotous duet of cackles, hoots, caws and gurgles.” [4]

References and Additional Information

[1]  Wikipedia: Barred Owl
[2]  The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition – David Allen Sibley
[3]  Cornell – All About Birds: Barred Owl
[4]  Cornell – All About Birds: Barred Owl – sound
[5]  The Breeding Bird Atlas of Georgia – UGA Press: Schneider, Beaton, Keyes and Klaus, Eds.