Barred Owl (Strix varia)

To hear the Barred Owl, click here.

DESCRIPTION, SENSES: Barred owls are large owls with round heads and NO ear tufts. They are brownish-gray with brown and white bars across their chest. (That’s why they’re called "barred" owls.) Their legs are covered with feathers. The barred owls’ eyes are dark brown, while most other owls have yellow eyes. Their beaks are sharp, but very small, so they are almost covered up by facial feathers. Owls can see very well at night, but they can also see during the day. They have a special inner eyelid which blocks bright sunlight - owl sunglasses! Most birds have eyes on their sides of their head. This helps them to see sideways and backwards. Owls, however, have both eyes in the front. This gives them good depth perception (helps them to tell how far away something is). Unfortunately, it means they can’t see sideways or backwards. To deal with this, owls can turn their head ALMOST all the way around. But they can’t spin their head in a full circle; their head would twist off! Owl ears are just holes on the sides of their head covered with feathers. These holes are higher on one side than the other. This helps the owl tell if a sound is coming from above or below. When you hear a sound, and you can’t tell where it’s coming from, don’t you tilt your head to listen better? The owl doesn’t have to tilt his head. His ears are tilted already! You also cup your hand over your ear to help you hear, right? Owls don’t have hands, but they can fluff the feathers around their ear holes to make a little funnel, just like your hand. The ear tufts that some owls have are NOT ears. They’re just feathers that might scare away predators. The barred owls’ sense of smell is probably not that strong. They even eat skunks.

FLIGHT & HUNTING: Barred owls are often out at night, dawn or dusk, but can be seen during the day. When hunting, they usually perch in a tree and watch and listen for prey. Then they swoop down and grab it with their talons (claws). Their toes are special. Normally, two go forward and two go back. This helps them get a good grip on their prey. But they can turn a back toe forward if they want. This may help them to hold on to a perch tree. Barred owls (like all owls) are carnivores (meat-eaters). They can eat mice, squirrels, foxes, rabbits, bats, small birds, other owls, snakes, lizards, fish, fiddler crabs, and bugs. Since they eat the whole animal (except for the wings of birds), they swallow a lot of fur and bones they can’t digest. Owls will regurgitate (re-gir-ji-tate) or vomit pellets of fur and bones. If you find a pile of little furry balls under a tree, you have found an owl’s perch tree or eating spot. If you pick the pellet apart, you can see the tiny bones and fur of the animals it has eaten. Barred owls like to sit on trees which have small branches and moss to hide and camouflage them. When they fly, they flap their wings a lot, instead of soaring like a vulture. This is because they have special soft feathers. Soft feathers are quiet; this helps the owl to sneak up on night animals. But soft feathers are not very good at catching the wind. The owl is a good hunter, but he can’t rest and soar. He must work hard to fly.

NESTING AND RAISING BABIES: Barred owls live in old forests near marshes or ponds. They nest in the big holes left by broken branches. They don’t really build a nest in the hole, but may put some soft feathers or grass in the bottom. If they can’t find a tree hole, they may use an old nest left by a hawk, crow, or squirrel. They hardly ever build their own nests. The same male and female stay together on a 1 square mile territory all year. They do not migrate. Each year they use the same nest. The mother lays 2-3 white, almost round eggs. When the babies are born, they are covered with white fluffy down and their eyes stay closed for a whole week. It is a long time before they can fly, about 40 days. Before this, they crawl out of the nest and sit together on a branch to look around. If they fall out of the tree, they can usually climb back up using their strong beaks and talons. The parents hunt for their food and tear meat into small pieces they can eat. After the babies learn to fly, they follow their parents around and learn to hunt. The parents will still feed them for a long time. The mother is a little bigger than the father, but otherwise, males, females, and teenagers look just alike.


OWLS AND PEOPLE: Barred owls live all over the eastern U.S., and are very common in Florida. Their calls sound like "who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" Since barred owls like to live near water, they may get tangled in fishing line someone has left behind. Sometimes they are hit by cars while looking for prey near a road. NEVER try to touch or get close to an owl. They are predators with strong talons and will hurt you if you get too close. It is against the law to have an owl as a pet or to have owl feathers without a permit from the government. It’s better to watch and learn and enjoy the owl free.

Click here to see some other Florida Owls.


"Carolina Raptor Center: Barred Owl," Http:// (1/15/98)

Green, John. Birds of Prey Coloring Book. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1989.

Stokes, Donald & Lillian. A Guide to Bird Behavior, Vol. III. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1989.

Terres, John K. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York: Random House, 1996.

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