Barred Owl, Strix varia
Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.
Barred Owl, Strix varia
The Barred Owl is a large typical owl native to North America. Best known as the Hoot Owl for its distinctive call.
The adult is 40–63 cm (16–25 in) long with a 96–125 cm (38–49 in) wingspan. Weight in this species is 500 to 1050 grams (1.1-2.3 lbs). It has a pale face with dark rings around the eyes, a yellow beak and brown eyes. It is the only typical owl of the eastern United States which has brown eyes; all others have yellow 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. The legs and feet are covered in feathers up to the talons. The head is round and lacks ear tufts, a distinction from the slightly smaller Short-eared Owl, which favors more open, marginal habitats.
Outside of the closely related Spotted Owl, this streaky, chunky-looking owl is unlikely to be confused over most of the range. The Spotted Owl is similar in appearance but has spots rather than streaks down the underside. Due to their fairly large size, the Barred Owl may be confused for the Great Horned Owl by the inexperienced but are dramatically different in shape and markings.
Breeding habitats are dense woods across Canada, the eastern United States, and south to Mexico, in recent years it has spread to the northwestern United States, having gradually spread further south in the west. The species is particularly numerous in a variety of wooded habitats in the southeastern United States. Recent studies show suburban neighborhoods can be ideal habitat for barred owls. Using transmitters, scientists found that populations increased faster in the suburban settings than in old growth forest.
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. It is a permanent resident, but may wander after the nesting season. If a nest site has proved suitable in the past they will often reuse it as the birds are non-migratory. In the United States, eggs are laid from early January in southern Florida to mid-April in northern Maine, and consist of 2 to 4 eggs per clutch. Eggs are brooded by the female with hatching taking place approximately 4 weeks later. Young owls fledge four to five weeks after hatching. These owls have few predators, but young, unwary owls may be taken by cats. The most significant predator of Barred Owls is the Great Horned Owl. The Barred Owl has been known to live up to 10 years in the wild and 23 years in captivity.
The Barred Owl is a very opportunistic predator. The principal prey of this owl are meadow voles, followed by mice and shrews of various species. Other mammals preyed upon include rats, squirrels, rabbits, bats, moles, opossums, mink, and weasels. A Barred Owl was photographed in Minnesota in 2012 predaceously grabbing and flying with a full-grown domestic cat, a semi-regular prey item for the Great Horned Owl but previously unknown to be taken by this species. Birds are taken occasionally and commonly include woodpeckers, grouse, quails, jays, icterids, doves and pigeons, and even domestic ducks. Less commonly, other raptors are predated, including smaller owls. Avian prey are typically taken as they settle into nocturnal roosts, because these owls are not generally nimble enough to catch birds on the wing. It occasionally wades into water to capture fish, turtles, frogs and crayfish. Additional prey include snakes, lizards, salamanders, slugs, scorpions, beetles, crickets, and grasshoppers. Barred Owls have been known to be attracted to campfires and lights where they forage for large insects. Prey is usually devoured on the spot. Larger prey is carried to a feeding perch and torn apart before eating.
The Barred Owl hunts by waiting on a high perch at night, or flying through the woods and swooping down on prey. A Barred Owl can sometimes be seen hunting before dark. This typically occurs during the nesting season or on dark and cloudy days. Of the North American owls, only the Burrowing Owl is more likely to be active during the day. Daytime activity is often most prevalent when Barred Owls are raising chicks. However, this species still generally hunts near dawn or dusk.
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. While calls are most common at night, the birds do call during the day as well.
On to my photos, the first two were shot with my old Nikon during a winter rain/snow squall, the rest were shot with my Canon 60 D:
This is number 120 in my photo life list, only 230 to go!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!