Yreka Fish and Wildlife Office
Pacific Southwest Region
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Local Species Information - Barred Owl (Strix varia)

 

Barred owl. Strix varia.  Photo by Jim Stamates.

Barred owl.  Strix varia.  Photo by Jim Stamates.

 

Natural History

 

Background

Barred owls are not listed under the Endangered Species Act, however, they are becoming more abundant within the range of the federally threatened northern spotted owl.  Barred owls occupy similar habitats to northern spotted owl, but are more aggressive and may be displacing northern spotted owls from their territories.  The Final Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl identified the barred owl as a threat to the continued persistence of northern spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest.  

 

Identifying Characteristics


Barred owl, front and back views.  Photo credit: Geritt Vyn (Copyright) Barred owl, front and back views.  Photo credit: Geritt Vyn (Copyright)

Barred owl, front and back views. 

Photo credit: ©Geritt Vyn

   

Markings: Barred owls are a medium-sized owl (seventeen to twenty inches in length) of brownish-gray color with a pattern of brown and white bars on the breast.

           

Look-a-like Owls:  Barred owls may be confused with northern spotted owls, which are slightly smaller than barred owls.  Northern spotted owls are more of a chocolate brown color and have spots instead of bars on the breast.


Northern spotted owl, front and back views. Photo credit:  Nick Dunlop (Copyright)
Northern spotted owl, front and back views. Photo credit:  Nick Dunlop (Copyright)

Northern spotted owl, front and back views.

Photo credit: © NickDunlop

       

Vocalizations:  Barred owls have a wide variety of vocalizations, which can be heard here

           

Sound-a-like birds: To hear vocalizations of birds with similar calls to barred owls, click on a name below: 

      Band-tailed pigeon               

      Flammulated owl                

      Great horned owl                

      Long-eared owl

      Mourning dove 

      Northern pygmy owl

      Northern spotted owl


Geographic Range

 

The range of the barred owl extends from Canada south through portions of the lower 48 United States and into Mexico.

 

Map of the areas in which barred owls occur. Image obtaind from the Birds of North America Online                 Map of the areas in which barred owls occur.  Image

                  obtained from the Birds of North America Online

Habitat

In the western United States, barred owls use mixed conifer forests that have developed a multi-storied structure.  Layered canopies in these forests provide opportunities for nesting, roosting, and foraging.  Because barred owls do not build their own nests, they rely on existing structures such as cavities in snags (standing, dead trees), broken tops of trees, mistletoe clumps, and nests built by other forest raptors.  Features such as snags and down logs are important hiding cover for prey species.

 

Prey

Barred owls eat a variety of food items, including: small mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, crayfish, fish, insects, spiders, snails, slugs, and earthworms.

 

Reproduction

Barred owls lay one to five eggs in early spring, with a clutch commonly producing 2 to 3 chicks.  Young fledge at about 4 to 5 weeks old, but are dependent upon their parents for food until late summer or early fall.

 

Current Information


A list of literature pertaining to barred owls, habitats, and prey is available here.  Additional literature citations will be added to this list as they become available.