Grays Harbor Birds - Barred Owl (Strix varia)


I feel as though I should have this bird featured on a “WANTED: Dead!” poster due to its increasingly controversial position in the Pacific Northwest.

Unlike its cousin, the Northern Spotted Owl, the Barred Owl is doing quite well and that is why it has become an unpopular interloper in the eyes of some in the birding community and many in the scientific world.

The Northern Spotted Owl requires large, intact parcels of old growth forest, while the Barred Owl isn’t so site-specific. A Barred Owl is more aggressive, so it can take over the increasingly more fragmented forested areas. The Barred Owl is more tolerant of the presence of humans and is often seen in neighborhood trees and nearby parks, allowing fairly close approach by photographers. It seems to be as curious about us as we are about it. Up until last year, the one in my neighborhood spent time dozing on a branch in the full sun, looking for all the world like a sunbather enjoying the heat. That particular bird seems to have been replaced by a more conservative owl that stays back in the darker depths of the trees around my house, but even this one tolerates my presence to some extent.

There has been talk among various agencies about shooting Barred Owls that are intruding into what are traditional Northern Spotted Owl territories, but that has raised a storm of protest … after all, this is a country that admires the “Survival of the Fittest” ethic, and the Barred Owl is a poster child for that. The jury is still out on the issue. But the Barred Owl will continue to adapt to the changing scene. I believe it will survive.

So here are some of the facts about the Barred Owl.

Size: 21 inches high with a wingspan of 40 to 48 inches and weighing 1 to 2 pounds.

General Description: A medium-sized owl with a round head lacking ear tufts, a pale face with dark rings around its dark eyes, and a yellow beak. The owls body is an overall grey-brown with horizontal barring on the breast and vertical striping on the belly, and feathers covering its legs down to the talons.

Habitat: Our forested areas around the harbor, including treed residential areas, parks, and edges of logged openings.

Behavior: Barred Owls are mostly sit-and-wait predators, most active at night and at dusk or dawn, though they also call and hunt during daylight if not discovered by a noisy pack of crows or jays.

Diet: Most small mammals, birds and frogs.

Nesting: Barred Owls are monogamous, forming long-term pair bonds and defending their territory year-round. They nest in natural tree hollows, artificial nest-boxes, or may take over old hawk, squirrel or crow’s nests. The female incubates 2 to 3 eggs for 28 to 33 days while the male hunts for her. After the eggs hatch, the male continues to hunt for her and the owlets for another two weeks, then the young leave the nest and “branch” to nearby perches at about 5 weeks. The female then begins hunting for herself and the youngsters. The young owls begin short flights at 10 weeks, and longer flights at 12 weeks. They often end up on the ground during these attempted flights, but are generally able to climb back up into the trees.

Migration: Barred Owls do not migrate, but they move in elevation with the availability of prey. The young also disperse in fall.

Where to Find in Grays Harbor: In dense stands of good-sized trees; listen for crows and jays to guide you, or look for their distinctiveshape back in the shadows. Also check power lines and poles at dawn and dusk.