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Beaver Valley barred owl; What a hoot …

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Vanessa Walts shares this closeup she captured of a majestic barred owl “hoo” came out for a look-see after a heavy rainfall in Fruitvale on Saturday. Photo: Vanessa Walts

Vanessa Walts shares this closeup she captured of a majestic barred owl “hoo” came out for a look-see after a heavy rainfall in Fruitvale on Saturday.

About the barred owl (Source:

Ecology and Habitat Requirements

Also known as the Hoot Owl and Wood Owl, the Barred Owl is classified as a raptor or bird of prey. The subspecies found in British Columbia is Strix varia varia, which is the most widespread subspecies in North America. Barred Owls range from 43 cm to 61 cm in length and 470g to 1050g in weight. The wingspan ranges from 1.0 to1.3 m long. Females tend to be slightly larger in size than the males. The owls are medium in size, have a large round head, and lack the ear tufts which are often found on other owl species. Both sexes are alike in plumage. The upper breast and throat feathers are marked with dark horizontal bars and sharply contrast with the dark brown vertical streaking on the pale breast and flanks (an excellent field mark to help distinguish the Barred Owl from the similar looking Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina)). The dark brown tail is crossed by distinct bands of brownish-gray. This species has a buff-yellow coloured bill and dark brown or black eyes that are set into the pale brownish-gray facial disk.

This species produces a large repertoire of vocalizations which are often given during the day. The most frequently heard call is the 9 note “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all.” Other vocalizations include a raucous jumble of hoots, cackles and chuckling notes and single loud, high-pitched contact calls and a whinny.

Diet and Foraging Behaviour

Barred Owls are generalist predators depending primarily on small mammals, although their varied diet also includes amphibians, reptiles, fish and arthropods. In the Okanagan Valley, a Barred Owl was observed capturing a Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma) in Penticton and beneath this Barred Owls roost site were the feathers of California Quail (Callipepla californica). This species is generally nocturnal, but can be active during any time of the day, especially when supporting young. Barred Owls use tree perches to scan the surrounding area while hunting. Shrub cover in hunting areas tends to be lower than in surrounding forests.

Reproduction and Nesting

Nests have been described in a number of areas in North America; however, most appear to be associated with natural cavities in large trees. Barred Owls are also known to use stick nests of other raptors or crow’s and have been recorded using the same nest for many years (Olsen et al. 1999). Courtship begins in early March with eggs being laid from late March to mid May. Clutch sizes range from 2 to 4 eggs that are pure white in colour. The incubation period ranges from 21 to 28 days. The male will feed the female at the nest during the incubation period. The fledgling period lasts approximately 42 days and the young are able to take flight within 50 days. The longest lifespan of a wild Barred Owl was reported to be 18 years and 2 months from a leg band recovery. The Barred Owl has a reported lifespan of up to 23 years in captivity.

Dispersal and Movements

The Barred Owl is almost always a year-round resident except during exceptionally harsh winter conditions or possibly during periods of low prey availability. In northern areas of British Columbia, it is suspected that many Barred Owls move southward during the late fall and winter, while in southern areas, it is more or less a sedentary species. The home range, which is defended from other Barred Owls and remains relatively consistent between years, measures from 200 to 600 ha, with the greater home range during the winter months. In southern areas of the province, the home range is probably occupied year-round.


The Barred Owl ranges from east of Great Plains from southern Canada to the Gulf Coast and Florida, and from southeastern Alaska southward to northern California and Idaho, and across central Canada. There are disjunct populations in southern Mexico.

Provincial Range

A common and widespread resident of the southern half of British Columbia, including Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. The species is uncommon and sparsely distributed throughout the northern boreal forest and boreal and taiga plains, north to the Liard River. Since this species was first recorded in British Columbia in 1943, it has expanded its range and increased in numbers.

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Sheri Regnier

About the Author: Sheri Regnier

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