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Barred Owl (Strix varia)

Barred Owl

Strix varia

(Order Strigiformes; Family Strigidae)

Strix varia (Picture by Gerald Bolkin)

Diagnosis: The Barred Owl is medium in size. Its coloration is gray and brown with white horizontal “bars” on the chest and vertical bars on the belly. They have a whitish face with brown trimming on the edge of the face and around the eyes. They have long tails and a yellow beak that is mostly covered with feathers. While other owl species (besides the Spotted Owl) have yellow eyes, Barred Owl eyes are brown.  The body averages 40-63 cm in length, and they have a wingspan of 96-125 cm. The average weight is 500-1050 g. Females are slightly larger than males. Appearance for both juvenile and adult is the same once the young shed their down.

Natural History: The Barred Owl gets its name from the horizontal white “bars” splayed across its chest. As a nocturnal creature, the Barred Owl roosts in nests during the day and hunts by night. Tree cavities are their preferred nesting site, and they will often take over those occupied by hawks and other birds, and squirrels. They are a non-migratory bird, and when they find a suitable nest will defend it throughout the year.  Their only predator as an adult is the Great Horned Owl, but juveniles are often attacked by cats.

Reproduction and Life Cycle: Barred Owls are a monogamous animal and mate for life, with the breeding season lasting from March through August. Their eggs are whitish and round, and generally 2-4 are laid per clutch, with an incubation period lasting 28-33 days. Eggs are not laid consecutively, but every 2-3 days, and incubation starts when the first egg is laid. The female seldomly leaves the nest during the incubation period, and so the male brings her food during this time. The young crawl out of the nest four weeks after hatching, and are called branchers until they begin to fly around 30-40 days after hatching. Unlike many other owl species, the young are cared for by their parents for the first several months of their lives. They have a life span of 10 years in the wild, but can live up to 32 years in captivity.

Distribution: Throughout the eastern half of North America from Florida to south Canada

Strix varia Distribution Map

Habitat: The Barred owl prefers moist areas, usually wooded forest or swamps. They generally cover territories from 85-365 ha.

Diet: The barred owl is a great carnivorous hunter, often swooping from a perch where they wait to spot their prey. Their main food choice is the meadow vole, but some others include mice, rabbits, squirrels, bats, mink, and many other smaller bird species. They are also known to hunt close to bodies of water, wading in the water to prey on amphibians and even fish, and occasionally large insects. Smaller prey is eaten on site, while larger are taken close to the nest and torn into smaller pieces.

Conservation Status:  Least concerned

Call:  The Barred Owl call is very unique. It is a series of eight hoots, and is remembered by the mnemonic device “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all”, though when threatened or feeling territorial, they have more extensive vocalization. This owl is generally more vocal at night, but is often heard during the day as well.




National Geographic. Animals. Barred Owl (Strix varia): Barred Owl Biology: A Reference for North and Central American Owls:

Wikipedia. Barred Owl:


Allen, A.W., 1987. Habitat Suitability Index Models: Barred Owl. National Ecology Center. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Barred Owl (Strix varia). 2012. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Heulett, K., Hostetler, M.E., and Labisky, R.F. 2002. Wildlife Ecology and Conservation: Barred Owl (Strix varia). University of Florida IFAS Extension.

Image Credits:

Barred Owl Range Map by South Dakota Birds and Birding. Created by Terry Sohl.

Strix varia. Photo by Gerald Bolkin.

Submitted by: Shanay R. Cantu-Chambers, July 2012

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