Barred Owl

Strix varia

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Common to the eastern forests of the United States, the Barred Owl is well known for its distinctive multi-syllabic song and striking plumage, which consists of mottled brown on the upper parts of the body and vertical stripes along the chest and belly. The owl has a stocky build with a rounded head and tail. No ear tufts are visible. The eyes are very large and almost completely black.

A nocturnal bird, the Barred Owl will remain quiet through the day but become more active at sundown. It will generally perch in high tree branches and survey the surrounding landscape for prey and threats. A very territorial species, the Barred Owl will aggressively challenge interloping birds, possibly even killing them.

Like most owls, this bird hunts primarily rodents and other small mammals. It is a generalist species however, meaning its diet can also include reptiles, amphibians, other birds and even fish. Its ability to feed on diverse prey and effective hunting skills have made it a very successful species and its population has increased dramatically in recent years. The Great Horned Owl is its most common predator.

Range and Habitat

Historically, the bird has occupied older forests dominated by deciduous species such as Hemlock, Maple, Hickory, Aspen and Larch trees in the eastern United States. The bird does not migrate, but its range has greatly expanded in recent years to include parts of Oregon and other areas in the Pacific Northwest. It prefers mature forests, swamps and woodlands where there is a greater diversity of prey animals. Because of its adaptability, the Barred Owl now occupies old growth evergreen forests in Oregon, putting it in direct competition with the threatened Northern Spotted Owl.

Conservation Status

Common. In Oregon, the Barred Owl is an invasive species which moved west from the deciduous forests of the eastern United States. It has gained some notoriety in recent years as being one of the chief threats to the threatened Northern Spotted Owl, with whom it interbreeds, competes for habitat and may occasionally kills over territorial disputes. To help curb the Barred Owl’s impact on the Northern Spotted Owl, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began culling the invasive bird in 2013, but it is unknown if this will have any long-term beneficial impact.