My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

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:

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred owl

Barred owl

Barred owl

Barred owl

Barred owl

Barred owl

 

This is number 120 in my photo life list, only 230 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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15 responses

  1. I love owls. Don’t get to see many, but love to hear them at night. It’s such a haunting sound.

    August 21, 2013 at 5:52 am

    • Thanks! There’s nothing better than going to sleep while camping up north listening to owls in the woods, and loons on a lake.

      August 21, 2013 at 8:58 am

  2. Sightings of these birds-about one each summer-are published in the local paper and everyone with a camera rushes to where it is. Then it isn’t seen again until the following summer and it happens all over again.

    August 21, 2013 at 6:21 am

    • If everyone in town came rushing at me with a camera, I’d stay hidden for more than a year!

      August 21, 2013 at 8:55 am

      • My thoughts exactly.

        August 21, 2013 at 9:59 am

  3. Owls are so cool. At our last house we had a couple that would use our roof for a look out for hunting purposes. I’m not sure what breed they were but they were fun to watch especially when they turned their heads…….Linda Blair in the Exorcist comes to mind 🙂

    August 21, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    • Wow, I’ve never heard of owls using a house as a perch before, that had to be special. You should have brought the owls with you to control the unwanted guests in your RV. 😉

      August 21, 2013 at 12:34 pm

      • Now there’s an idea!

        August 21, 2013 at 1:37 pm

  4. OH I love this new look !!! Makes things easy to read and is so professional. My birding friends loved this post .;-) Congrats !

    August 21, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    • Thanks, a little tweak here, and another there, and I think that I have my blog set for the next three years. Funny, I got a number of negative comments when I first made the switch, but you’re the only one who has said anything about the new new look. 😉

      August 22, 2013 at 3:17 am

  5. Reblogged this on wedding photography brampton ontario.

    August 22, 2013 at 3:30 am

  6. What caught your eye when you found the owl originally, do you remember? Or did it make a sound? They seem like such secretive birds, I am impressed that you were able to spot it despite it’s owlish camo!

    August 22, 2013 at 3:58 am

    • This will sound strange, but I felt something staring at me, and looked in the direction that I felt the stare coming from, and locked eyes with the owl, even though it was behind a bush. It’s very hard to explain, and I don’t know if it’s something that happens because I spend so much time outdoors, or if it was something I was born with, but deep inside my mind, down past the regular human thought process, I can sometimes feel the presence of critters when they stare at me, and my eyes automatically lock on theirs. It’s weird when it happens, even to me.

      August 22, 2013 at 8:56 am

  7. John

    Only started following you, and I enjoy reading about your experiences. I’m a little surprised you made no mention in this post of the last shot, with another bird seemingly just past the subject at hand. is this unusual for a bird to be that close, esp as you stated its dietary habits would make other birds think twice before being near an owl. do you know what bird would be so bold to do that?

    November 30, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    • Thanks John! I didn’t get a chance to ID that bird, it was attacking the owl as the owl was too close to the small bird’s nest. Defending their young can make even small birds brave!

      November 30, 2013 at 10:48 pm