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.