Barred Owl



Common Name: Barred Owl

Class:  Aves

Order: Strigiformes

Family: Strigidae

Genus: Strix

Species: Strix varia

Photo: M. Noonan



The Barred Owl is a fairly common, large (21 inches, 53 cm), nocturnal owl. Even though they are mostly nocturnal, they can be seen moving during the daytime. Males and females look alike with a pale face and dark eyes. They have a large round head that lacks ear tufts, dark horizontal barring on their pale breast and dark vertical barring on their belly.



Barred Owls are year-round residents east of the Great Plains and have been recently found in the north western parts of North America. East of the Great Plains, the range extends from the Canadian border to southern Florida, where they are very common. Barred Owls are primarily found in forested areas, dense coniferous, mixed woodlands or wooded swamps. These forested areas are often near water. Barred Owls are opportunistic predators that seek their prey while flying in a low searching flight. They eat mostly small mammals such as mice, squirrels, hares and shrews. They will also eat small to medium sized birds, crayfish, amphibians and reptiles.




Barred Owls primarily hunt prey at night but have been seen to hunt during the day. Due to their nocturnal lifestyle they have adapted hearing that allows them to better sense their prey. A ruff of feathers is located just outside the ears which acts as a reflector to channels sounds into the ears. Once a sound is heard, the owl can pinpoint its location with 1.5 degrees in both the horizontal and vertical planes. Owls are silent hunters because of the structural modification of the first primary feather on each wing. The edge of the feather is serrated, instead of being smooth, which disrupts the flow of air over the wing in flight. This disrupts the vortex heard when air flows over a smooth surface.


During courtship displays, the male and the female will produce loud vocals while perched on a branch. They will then nod, bow with half-spread wings and then wobble while they twist their head side-to-side. Barred Owls are believed to have a monogamous mating system and produce one brood per year. They usually use an abandoned squirrel and hawk nests and will scrape out remnant lining to make a hollow cavity. Their nests are usually perennial if they have had success their in previous breeding seasons and they are territorial all year. The female lays 2-3 white eggs and will incubating them for the 28-33 day period. The owlets are semi-altricial which means they are immobile, downy, blind and need to be fed. The female is the primary caregiver to her young who can fly 42 days after hatching. Parental care can extend up to 4 months after the young have hatched. Young that are raised in small cavity nests tend to leave earlier than young raised in larger cavities.





Owls are difficult to find because they are mainly nocturnal but this species of owl is sometimes seen to be active during the day and is more commonly seen by birders then other owl species. These owls are permanent residents of WNY and some areas where Barred Owls have been seen are Allegany State Park, Oak Orchard State Park, Iroquois NWR, Sprague Brook Park as well as well as the county forest on Genesee Road.














Photo: M. Noonan

Birds of Western New York is brought to you by the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.