Where the Barred Owls Lives

The Barred Owl is a mid-sized owl without ear tufts. These owls have mottled brown and gray feathers and large brown eyes. The Barred Owl gets its name from the horizontal bars on the breast and vertical bars on the belly. There is a clear and distinct line marking the separation of horizontal and vertical bars. People with limited knowledge of owls refer to the Barred Owl as a Barn Owl. The Barred Owl does not make its nest in a barn. People who study and track owls sometimes mistake Spotted Owls for Barred Owls. The Spotted Owl is a slightly smaller cousin to the Barred Owl and similar in appearance

Barred Owls originally covered the Eastern states of North America. Scientific field studies show the Barred Owl is pushing toward the Western states and into Mexico. It is believed this push into new territory is caused by over-development in the Eastern states. Radio telemetry has allowed the tracking of these owls, which shows the birds nesting in hollows of large, tall trees, chimneys and nesting boxes. In 2004, studies showed eleven of forty-five nesting birds in rural forests and parks, with the majority of the owls living in the suburbs.

While it is true that Barred Owls prefer to nest in tree hollows or hollow trunks, a tree with these ideal conditions is getting harder for the owls to find. Barred Owls need mature woods in close proximity to open country for foraging. An owl will sit silently on the edge of a tree limb, patiently waiting for dinner to come to him. Suddenly, in a flash, the owl swoops down and secures his meal with his powerful talons. A person may have sat beneath the owl for two or three hours without ever knowing it was just above him.

From the mountain forests to the swamp lands, Barred Owls can be found. Whether at sea level or more than 8,000 feet in elevation in Mexico, Barred Owls make their homes. When young owls leave the family nest, they seek a mate for life. Barred Owls are monogamous. They make several different calls to each other to communicate a preference for nesting, to warn of danger, to alert a mate to an approaching meal opportunity and perhaps just to tell each other that life is good and all is well. The Barred Owl is also identified by a peculiar call given to other Barred Owls, which sounds as if someone is asking, “Who cooks for you?” 

Barred Owls have been referred to as screeching owls whenever there are many in a small area of a suburb. Their loud calls to each other could sound like a screeching to someone trying to sleep. Why are the owls more comfortable inside the suburbs? It could be that wherever there are many people living, food opportunities vastly increase. Mice and rats are attracted to populated areas where kitchen scraps are put out in the trash. The mice and rats attract the owls. Barred Owls will snatch a tiny kitten or puppy as easily as they catch a rat. If the owl believes she can fly with the weight of the animal, she will attempt to snare it with her talons and fly off to feed or to feed herself and her young. Barn cats with litters of new kittens risk having a juvenile kitten mangled by a Barred owl. The owl will attempt to fly off with the kitten after grabbing it with sharp talons, but has  to drop it to maintain flight. The stunned, injured kitten may or may not survive the ordeal. From above, the young kitten resembles a baby squirrel or bunny. Owls do not choose kittens as a meal, unless they are starved. Mistaken identity has cost many young animals their lives.

An owl needs shelter from the elements in a place not easily accessible to predators and with a steady food supply. Whether this is in thick forest close to a clearing or in a suburb chimney depends upon where the owl was born. Barred owls prefer to stay within a few miles of their original home.