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Barred Owl

(aka Hoot Owl) Strix varia

Barred Owl


A medium-sized owl, the barred owl is 16-25 inches long, has a wingspan of 38-50 inches, and weighs 16-38 ounces; females are larger than males. The upperparts are brown to greyish-brown, scalloped with whitish bars on the crown, back and mantle. Wing-coverts are spotted whitish. Flight feathers are barred whitish-buff and brown. The tail is brown or greyish-brown with 4-5 whitish bars. The facial disc is pale greyish-brown with darker concentric lines. The toes are almost totally feathered.

Distribution and Habitat

The barred owl is found throughout the eastern half of North America, across southern Canada, and in southwestern Canada south to northern California. The preferred habitat is mature mixed forest, but the barred owl can also be found in wooded swamps and woodlands near waterways.

distribution of the barred owl


Opportunistic predators, barn owls prey on a variety of small mammals, with rodents being the most common. They will also take reptiles, amphibians, a variety of invertebrates, roosting birds, and even fish. Hunting is usually done at night, but barred owls are occasionally seen hunting at dusk during the nesting season or on dark, cloudy days. Small prey is usually devoured whole on the spot, while larger prey may be carried to a feeding perch and torn apart before being eaten (head first).


Barred owls are believed to pair for life, and may use the same nesting sites year after year. Breeding takes place from March to August. They do not build their own nests, preferring to take advantage of an existing tree cavity, abandoned squirrel nest, or man-made nest box or platform instead. They rarely "make improvements" to cavities or existing nests, save for the addition of lichen, fresh green conifer sprigs, or feathers for comfort. Up to 4 white eggs are laid, and are incubated by the female alone for 28-33 days; the male will return at irregular intervals to bring her food. The owlings can leave the nest at about 4 weeks, but cannot fly until they are about 4 months old. They will be cared for by both parents until able to fly.

Other Information

Barred owls are usually solitary outside the breeding season.

Territorial all year round, they chase away intruders while hooting loudly. They are even more aggressive during the nesting season (particularly the females), sometimes striking intruders with their feet.

Barred owls tend to spend their entire lives within 6-10 miles of where they were born, moving to new territories only when food supplies are low or their habitat is destroyed.

Hides in dense foliage during the day, usually high up. May also roost on a branch close to a broad tree-trunk, or in a natural tree hole. May be very aggressive when defending a nest.

The barred owl's alternate name (hoot owl) comes from its most common vocalization: "hoo, hoo, too-HOO; hoo, hoo, too-HOO, ooo," which is often phrased as "Who, cooks, for-you? Who, cooks, for-you, all?"

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Aves
order Strigiformes
family Strigidae
genus & species Strix varia

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This page was last updated on March 22, 2018.