What is a Barred Owl?

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  • Written By: A. Delgado
  • Edited By: Angela B.
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  • Last Modified Date: 20 March 2020
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The barred owl, or Strix varia, is a medium-sized predatory bird that inhabits dense forests and wooded swamps in North America. Barred owls were named for their striped plumage. They are very vocal birds with a distinctive hooting call, and they prey on several species of insects, small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

Barred owls weigh between 1 pound and 1.5 pounds (about 0.4 kg to 0.7 kg) and measure between 16 inches and 25 inches (about 40 cm to 63 cm). Their wingspans range from 38 inches to 50 inches (about 96 cm to 127 cm). Females are typically larger than males.

The feathers of barred owls are mainly gray or brown with white vertical streaks on the belly and white horizontal streaks on the back and neck area. They lack the ear tufts, yellow eyes and dark beaks that are characteristic of their natural enemy, the great horned owl. Barred owls instead have dark brown eyes and yellow beaks. The fringed edges of their feathers allow them to fly silently when hunting.


Barred owls make very loud vocalizations to communicate with each other, especially during the mating season in February and March. They use tree hollows, nesting boxes, or the empty nests of animals such as squirrels and red-shouldered hawks to lay their eggs. They usually use the same nest several times. Females typically lay from two to three white eggs at a time and incubate them for up to 33 days. Young owlets leave the nest when they’re around 4 weeks old and learn to fly between the ages of 6 weeks to 9 weeks.

The range of the barred owl extends from the eastern half of the United States to the U.S. Pacific Northwest, southern Canada and parts of Mexico. They seek out mature woodlands and swampy forest areas for roosting. The size of a barred owl’s territory ranges from 213 acres to 903 acres (0.8 km2 to 3.6 km2), depending on the distribution of prey.

They generally search for prey over farmland, rivers, open fields and roads. Barred owls are nocturnal and hunt by diving from perches to catch rodents, woodchucks, insects, frogs, fish, and lizards. They also feed on birds that roost at night. They swallow their food whole and regurgitate the parts that can’t be digested as pellets.

Barred owls are considered beneficial to the ecosystems in which they live. Their feeding habits help reduce the insect and rodent populations that threaten to destroy crops. They do pose a potential problem, however, for the endangered spotted owl populations in the Pacific Northwest, where they compete for prey and territory.

The average lifespan of a wild barred owl is roughly 18 years. The highest mortality rates occur during the first year of life, when owlets are preyed on by other animals. Other causes of death include being shot by hunters and killed on roads.


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