Barred Owls have distinct calls and are hard to find due to their amazing camoflage.
Barred Owls are large, stocky owls with rounded heads, no ear tufts, and medium length, rounded tails. They are mottled brown and white overall, with dark brown eyes. The underparts are mostly marked with vertical brown bars on a white background, while the upper breast is crossed with horizontal brown bars. The wings and tail are brown with white barring.
Barred Owls are 16.9-19.7 inches (43-50 centimeters) in length and weigh 16.6-37.0 ounces (470-1050 grams). They have a wingspan of 39.0-43.3 inches (99-110 centimeters).
Barred Owls are native to eastern North America. They have spread to the Pacific Northwest through human development. Barred Owls never migrate and rarely wander. They can be found year-round in large, mature forests made up of both deciduous trees and evergreens, often near water. They nest in tree cavities during the day. In the Northwest, where they aren't native, Barred Owls have moved into old-growth coniferous forest, where they compete with the threatened Spotted Owl .
Barred Owls eat many kinds of small animals. They hunt by sitting and waiting on an elevated perch, while scanning all around for prey with their sharp eyes and ears. They may even wade in shallow water to eat aquatic animals. Though they do most of their hunting during the night, sometimes they feed during the day. Barred Owls may temporarily store their prey in a nest, in the crook of a branch, or at the top of a snag. They swallow small prey whole and large prey in pieces, eating the head first and then the body.
Barred Owls usually nest in a natural cavity, 20–40 feet high in a large tree. They may also use stick platform nests built by other animals, as well as human-made nest boxes. Barred Owls do little or nothing to change an existing tree cavity or abandoned platform nest. They may add lichen, fresh green conifer sprigs, or feathers to a stick platform nest, and they may flatten or remove the top of an old nest. Nest cavities measure 10–13 inches wide and 14–21 inches deep, but can sometimes be deeper. Barred Owls may inspect a nest site as early as a year before using it. It is unknown which parent chooses the nest site.
Barred Owls will have one brood with one to five eggs in each per month. The eggs are pure white with a rough surface. They have a length of 1.7-2.2 inches (4.3-5.6 centimeters) and a width of 1.5-1.8 inches (3.8-4.5 centimeters). Incubation period is 28-33 days and nesting period is 28-35 days. At hatchling, the hatchlings are helpless and covered with white down, with closed eyes.
Barred Owls roost on branches and in tree cavities during the day and hunt by night. Territorial all year round, they chase away intruders while hooting loudly. They are even more aggressive during nesting season, especially the females, sometimes striking intruders with their feet. Pairs are probably monogamous. Their nests are preyed upon by other large owls and hawks, as well as by weasels and raccoons. When humans interfere with a nest, the parent may flee and perform a noisy distraction display with quivering wings, or even attack. Other small birds recognize Barred Owls as predators and may band together to mob them. Their most dangerous predator is the Great Horned Owl, which eats eggs, young birds, and sometimes adults.
Although the Barred Owl technically doesn't sing, its distinctive "Who cooks for you?" call functions as a song. Its song includes a unique hooting call of 8–9 notes, described as “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” This call carries well through the woods and is fairly easy to imitate. During courtship, mated pairs perform a wild duet of cackles, hoots, caws and gurgles. Juveniles make a raspy screech. Other sounds they make are the snap of their bills during squabbles.
Barred Owls are fairly numerous and their populations have had a small increase recently.
- Pleistocene fossils of Barred Owls, at least 11,000 years old, have been dug up in Florida, Tennessee, and Ontario.
- Barred Owls don't wander very much. Of 158 birds that were banded and then found later, none had moved farther than 6 miles away.
- Barred Owls are displacing and hybridizing with Spotted Owls.
- Young Barred Owls can climb trees by grasping the bark with their bill and talons, flapping their wings, and walking their way up the trunk.
- The oldest recorded Barred Owl was at least 24 years, 1 month old. It was banded in Minnesota in 1986, and found dead, entangled in fishing gear, in the same state in 2010.
- Barred Owls are also called Cárabo Norteamericano (in Spanish) and Chouette rayée (in French).