The native habitat of barred owls is vast; these hardy birds range from southeastern Alaska south to Honduras and El Salvador. Non-descript in appearance, both males and females share a buff-white upper body with dark brown barring and vertical streaking of the lower breasts and flanks. Their backs are dark brown with white spots, and the facial disks are grayish white to pale brownish gray with four or five semicircular brown rings. Their unique barred appearance is unmistakable to a keen-eyed observer, hence the name “barred” owl. The wingspans of these birds stretch 40-50 inches and they weigh in at 1.4 lbs. for males and 1.8 lbs. for the slightly larger females, making them a medium-sized owl. Barred owls also lack feather tufts or “ears” that other owls have and are the only North American owl with brown eyes.
They need foliage for roosts and year round cover for winter, with open land for hunting their diverse prey. They mostly hunt small rodents, but have been known to take amphibians, insects, and even small fish. Barred owls prefer dense moist woodlands near waterways or wooded swamps. They can also live at altitudes that the competing spotted owl can’t survive. Territories can range between 213 and 903 acres, depending on availability of prey. In northern habitats they may migrate depending on food availability. It’s only in recent years that they have ventured from the eastern half of the United States into the northwestern territories of America. There is some concern about the populations of endangered spotted owls, a smaller cousin, who must compete with barred owls as they encroach on the spotted owl’s territory.
Barred owls have learned to live in wooded areas near man, and even close to large cities. Deforestation and habitat destruction has somewhat reduced populations to the east, but due to their spread into new western territories, the general population has remained relatively stable. In Washington State they have adapted to second-growth forests. Like all raptors they are under protection by law, though they still face challenges from man, including being hit by traffic and shot.
Barred owls are monogamous and mate for life. They use the same nesting site year after year, using hollow trees or abandoned hawk, squirrel or crow nests. They will also nest in homemade nest boxes provided by humans. Directions for building these are available through numerous online sources, or you can contact your local state conservation department’s office for instructions.