Barred Owl

Leonard returned yesterday from a veterinary call bearing a dead, badly mangled owl. He saw it lying next to the road and realized it was something unusual that needed to be identified. What better Valentine gift to bring one’s wife?

The unfortunate bird was a barred owl (Strix varia). Up until the 20th Century the barred owl was common in the East, but not found in the West. During the last century the barred owl expanded its range north and west through Canada before moving into the Pacific Northwest and the most northern parts of Coastal California. None of the range maps I consulted show the barred owl living in our corner of Northeastern California. Neither Leonard nor I had ever encountered a barred owl before. Was this owl a stray? Is the range of the barred owl continuing to expand? Or did this non-migratory owl wander in search of food? The literature notes that barred owls do not move about much and remain in a single, small area throughout their lives, except occasionally they move during the winter when food is scarce.

A barred owl looks very similar to the infamous spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) and will hybridize with the spotted owl where their ranges overlap. (I saw this hybrid referred to as a sparred owl.) The spotted owl is also not reported in our area, although several summers ago Leonard and I were positive we heard a spotted owl calling outside our bedroom window several nights in a row. The barred owl is mottled brown and white overall and has dark eyes. Vertical brown bars on white mark the underparts, the upper breast has horizontal black and white bars and the wings and tail are also barred brown and white. Both sexes are similar. In contrast the spotted owl has brown and white spots on its underparts and upper breast. The spotted owl is also slightly smaller averaging 18″ while the barred owl averages 21″ overall. The dead barred owl was exactly 21″ long.

The barred owl is chiefly nocturnal and spends its days perched in well-hidden spots amid  mature deciduous and conifer forests. However, if approached, a barred owl will fly away at the smallest disturbance. Leonard and I want to wander about the trees near where this barred owl met its demise (Modoc County CA) to look for other barred owls.

Even though this barred owl was not in very good condition (I did not include pictures of the face since it was horribly ravaged.) the vertical feathers on the lower chest, the horizontally barred breast and the brown and white barred wings and tail feathers can be seen. I love the feathered legs.

My only regret is that the first barred owl I ever encountered was not alive and flying away from my approach.

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6 Responses to Barred Owl

  1. Evan Kelly says:

    You said 21′ (Feet) instead of 21″ (inches) and the first barred owl I’ve ever seen flew seven feet over me while my boy scout troop was doing it’s call.


  2. Nessa Flax says:

    I especially want to comment on your statement that “a barred owl will fly away at the smallest disturbance.” My Vermont home is surrounded by woods. In winters when the snow is very deep, there is a barred owl (or owls?) who returns to perch on my bird feeder, where it waits for mice tunneling through the snow to feed at the seed on the ground. The feeder is less than 10 ft. from my kitchen window, through which we routinely contemplate one another. This winter, I shoveled snow off my porch, less than 5 ft. away from it! You can see a variety of owl pics of this at my Voices in the Hills Facebook page, including one shot I caught of it in flight. The pics were taken either through my kitchen window or from out on the porch, NOT with a telephoto lens, but with a simple “point and shoot” zoom lens. I’ve also walked my dog near trees where the owl has watched us without being in the least disturbed. Apparently, when they’re hungry barred owls are concentrated hunters not easily disturbed … So sorry about your dead/mangled owl encounter — I hope you get to see one in all its living glory!


    • gingkochris says:

      My statement is indeed a broad generalization. Some birds (and animals, too) will usually take off at the slightest disturbance while others seem to care less about my presence. I immediately think of golden eagles, usually very difficult to approach, versus bald eagles, who are much less concerned by my proximity. Given the appropriate situation (eating or stalking prey, wind direction, temperature etc. etc.) though, most wildlife can be less alert and cautious. You are so fortunate to have observed a “resident” barred owl at close range.I keep going back to the area where Leonard found the barred owl, but no success in locating another – yet!


  3. Rockie says:

    You know your husband loves you when he brings you a dead owl for valentines day….lol
    Thank you for sharing. By the way the owls that I told you about (and took pictures of) are back. I have been seeing them on the back road. Let me know if you want to come see them and I will show you where they are.


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