The barred owl (Strix varia), also known as northern barred owl or hoot owl is a large species of owl native to eastern North America.
It is found throughout southwestern Canada, Washington, Oregon and northern California. Its range extends throughout the eastern United States including Florida and Texas.
The barred owl is arboreal, living in coniferous forests near water source, and wooded swamps. They require dense foliage for daytime roosting, and large trees with cavities for nesting.
The average lifespan of the barred owl is about 10 to 12 years in the wild. The longest recorded age of a wild barred owl is 24 years.
The barred owl is 43 to 61 centimeters (17 to 21 in) long and has a wingspan of 102 to 127 centimeters (40 to 50 in) at full length. The average male weigh 630 grams (22 oz) and female weigh 800 grams (28 oz).
It has a pale face with dark rings around the eyes, a yellow beak and brown eyes. The upper parts are mottled gray-brown. The underparts are light with markings; the chest is barred horizontally while the belly is streaked vertically (hence the name “barred owl”). The legs and feet are covered in feathers up to the talons. The head is round and lacks ear tufts.
Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, but they are also known to prey upon other small animals such as birds, reptiles, amphibians and other small animals.
They are able to find food from a far distance from its great hearing sense.
The usual call is a series of eight accented hoots ending in oo-aw, with a downward pitch at the end. The most common mnemonic device for remembering the call is “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all.” It is noisy in most seasons. When agitated, this species will make a buzzy, rasping hiss and click its beak together forcefully.
Barred Owls don’t migrate, and they don’t even move around very much.
The barred owl is monogamous, pairing for life.
The barred owl’s nest is often in a tree cavity, often ones created by pileated woodpeckers; it may also take over an old nesting site made previously by a red-shouldered hawk, Cooper’s hawk, crow, or squirrel.
Eggs are laid from early-January to mid-April and consist of 2 to 4 eggs per clutch. While the female incubates eggs the male will hunt for her. Hatching taking place after incubation of approximately 4 weeks. Young owls fledge four to 5 weeks after hatching.
Barred owls are preyed on by raccoons and weasels as eggs and nestlings. Adults are sometimes killed by great horned owls, northern goshawks, hit by cars, and captured in traps set for mammals.
Attacks by barred owls on hikers have been reported from Texas to British Columbia.
A barred owl was thought to have played a part in a bizarre high-profile North Carolina murder case. In 2003 a man was convicted of murdering his second wife with a fireplace blow poke. In 2011, after the man had served several years in prison, a judge tossed out the forensic evidence related to the murder weapon. Shortly thereafter, news of barred-owl attacks in the Pacific Northwest, combined with a reexamination of the wounds on the victim’s scalp, face, and wrists, prompted the defendant’s attorneys to suggest that a barred owl was to blame for the victim’s death. The defense argued that the victim, who was under the influence of pain medication and alcohol at the time, was attacked by a barred owl in her front yard. The owl had become entangled in the victim’s hair and continued to scratch and peck before the victim was able to fight it off and free it as she ran into the house. After climbing the stairs to the second floor, the attorneys suggested that the victim had then fallen backwards down the stairs to her death, breaking her neck. In 2017 the defendant plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter, which allowed him to maintain his innocence.