Barred Owl

STATUSLeast Concern


DIETMammals, specifically rodents, make up the largest portion of a typical barred owl diet

RANGEThroughout eastern United States and up into Canada

HABITATForests with mature trees and dense cover near water.

Barred Owl

Barred owls are large owls with stocky builds and no ear tufts on top of their rounded heads. They are from 43-50 cm tall with a wing span of 99-110cm. Barred owls can weigh between 470 and 1050 grams with females typically being larger than males.

 The barred owl is named for the gray/brown and white bars that mark this bird’s body. Horizontal barring is found from the upper chest up to the face while vertical barring is seen lower on the chest. These bars can also be seen on the bird’s wings and tail. Even juveniles of this species show the barred patterns that gave these birds their name.

Barred owls are crepuscular hunters which means they hunt in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn. These owls are very vocal and it is common in to hear them calling at night or even sometimes in the day light hours. The call of a barred owls is very distinct and easily recognized at the “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” call.

Related To:
Spotted owl, Great gray owl

The barred owl is historically a species found throughout the eastern United States and up in to Canada although during the 20th century, they began to extend their reach further and further west in these areas. The expansion of their range has cause conflicts with the closely related, and threatened, spotted owl in areas where the species overlap and thus compete for habitat. Being the more aggressive of the two, the barred owl is able to push out the spotted owl from habitats they share and thus is contributing to the decline of the spotted owl population.

These owls live in forests preferring to live in areas with mature trees and dense cover near water. They are not a migratory species and generally stay within a few miles of their established home ranges.

Diet in Wild:
Mammals, specifically rodents, make up the largest portion of a typical barred owl diet. Being a species that much prefers to live close to a water source, these owls also commonly eat fish and crayfish. While they typically swoop from trees to catch prey, they are also known to wade into shallow waters in search of food sources.

Like most owl species, the barred owl may cache excess food in a tree cavity or other convenient hiding spot to return to later.

Diet in Zoo:
Commercially raised and humanely killed mice. Frozen packaging not only ensures freshness but also cleanliness.  All of the Education Birds of Prey are not able to hunt on their own due to injuries, so live prey could never be offered. Diet enrichments ensure stimulation for the birds.

When in the nest, as young or still in the egg, a barred owl is much more vulnerable to predation. The nest may be raided by raccoons, weasels, or other species. As adults, barred owls face far less threats. An adult barred owl’s greatest natural predator is the great horned owl. If the two species share overlapping home ranges, the barred owl will often shift to another area to avoid encountering a great horned owl. Another threat to barred owls are collisions with vehicles.

Life Cycle/ Social Structure:
After reaching sexual maturity around the age of 2, barred owls will find a mate and pair for life. The pair will often have territories that are adjacent to each other during the non breeding season, creating an overlap area between the two territories when it is time to nest.

Nests are constructed in tree cavities with the parent owls making little to no alterations to the nest site. If a suitable tree cavity can not be located, a barred owl pair may decide to use an abandoned platform nest created by another species of bird or even steel an old squirrel nest. In some situations, these owls may also use man-made nest boxes.

Once a nest site is selected, the female will lay a clutch of between 1 and 5 eggs which she will incubate between 28 and 33 days. Because not all of the eggs are laid in the same day, they will not hatch on the same day. This can create some size differences between the young in the nest. If food is scarce, nestlings may kill off the smaller siblings in order to survive. While young fledge around 6 weeks of age, they remain dependent on their parents for up to 6 months. While the female incubates eggs and cares for her brood of nestlings, the male will hunt and retrieve food to feed her and the young.

Barred owls are extremely territorial birds and will chase away intruders by dropping down and hitting them with their feet. This behavior is more pronounced, especially by females, during breeding season. If a human interference with a nest occurs, the barred owl parent will either attack or try to distract the intruder by making lots of noise and fluttering wings to lead the person away from the nest.

Because of their predatory nature, this species of owl is often mobbed by crow, songbirds, and woodpeckers if it is spotted flying during the day.

Life Span:
Barred owls in the wild tend to live to be around 10 years of age although one was recorded reaching the old age of 18! In human care the longevity of a barred owl increases to around 23 years of age.

 Interesting Facts:

  • The belly feathers of some Barred Owls are pink. This coloring may be the result of eating a lot of crayfish.
  • 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.
  • In the western part of the United States Barred owls have been found to hybridize with the Spotted owl.
  • Like other owl species, Barred owls have specialized feathers allowing them to be silent hunters. On the edges of the feathers are tiny fringes allowing the air to pass through their wings

Conservation Message:
Owls like other birds of prey are very important predators.  Owls usually consume insects and small rodents which keeps the pest population low.  While barred owls do not hunt in fields, their consumption of pest species such as mice can help keep the populations low in forested areas near human homes.

Because of their dependence on large, older trees with cavities for nesting, the barred owl is often used as an indicator species to manage logging practices in and near old growth forests.  If the forest begins to become unsuitable for animals, the barred owl will be one of the first animals to move to a new territory or perish under the new unfavorable conditions.

What You Can Do:
Do not litter.  The Barred owl in Lehigh Valley Zoo’s education department lost 90% of his vision because he was hit by a car.  He went for an MRI and veterinary staff discovered that the bird’s brain was not able to comprehend images. It is believed that all he can see now are fuzzy dark images.  Birds of prey can be seen hunting along highways all over the country which is very dangerous for them, many of them are hit by cars or somehow injured along the roadways.  They are attracted to the roadways because their prey forages on the trash thrown out of car windows.  Everyone can make a positive impact by not littering or even volunteering to remove garbage from the roads.  Although many people may not consider apple cores or banana peels to be “litter”, it can still attract animals to the roadside. Taking trash home and disposing of it properly can help a bird of prey near you.


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