Barred Owl

Photo: Jennifer Rowe
(Enlarge image)

Scientific Name: Strix varia
Classification: Nongame Species
Abundance: Statewide


Species Profile



Barred Owl (Wikipedia)

Additional Information

Exceeded in size only by the great horned owl, the barred owl gets its name from the horizontal barring on its throat and upper breast, contrasting with a pattern of irregular bold, vertical streaks just below. It is a rather mottled grayish brown overall with light and dark feathers throughout its body. The large eyes are dark-brownish black, and set in a large, round head that lacks ear tufts. There are no plumage variations between the sexes. And, characteristic of the raptor group, the female is noticeably larger than her mate.

The barred owl prefers wetter, riverine areas, whereas the great-horned owl is more at home along the ridges and drier areas of the state. At higher elevations, waterways and drainages such as the French Broad and New rivers provided appropriate habitat. Barred owls nest and forage primarily in wetlands, such as around beaver ponds and in open swamps, bottomlands, and nearby marshes. While the species is found statewide, they are relatively scarce in the mountains. The barred owl is an opportunistic eater with an appetite for a wide range of food items. It can capture and kill mammals as large as an opossum, but will also consume smaller animals such as rabbits, squirrels, rodents, salamanders, frogs, fish, crayfish, beetles and other insects. They will also hunt a variety of bird species and have even been  known to kill and eat screech owls. Most small prey is swallowed whole, headfirst; larger animals are eaten where they are captured rather than being carried in the owl’s talons to another site for consumption. Barred owls are prey themselves and are frequently killed by great horned owls and large mammals, especially raccoons.     

This owl is monogamous and strongly territorial, especially during the breeding season, which begins in late winter in North Carolina, and is preceded by a very vocal courtship period. The preferred nest site is a cavity in a tree, living or dead, of sufficient size to accommodate the incubating adult. Females can lay 1-5 white eggs, but usually only 2, that are incubated solely by the female. A month later, the newly hatched young are blind and helpless and must be provided food and brooded to maintain their body temperature during the colder winter months. Before they can take flight, juveniles may climb trees using their beaks and talons but will eventually fledge and leave their nest by midsummer. However, their skills at catching and killing prey are minimal and they are attended by their parents for several more weeks before actually gaining independence. Barred owls only rear one brood each year. Learn more by reading the barred owl species profile.

The barred owl is a nongame species with no open hunting season. Under federal and state law, it is illegal for anyone to injure, harass, kill or possess a bird of prey or any parts of a bird of prey. This includes harming or removing a nest. If you find an injured owl, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

All owl species in North Carolina are protected by federal and state law. It is illegal to kill, injure, or harass native owls. It is also illegal to harm or destroy active owl nests (eggs and/or nestlings present). Possession of live native owls or any of their parts requires both state and federal permits. 


Found an orphaned or injured owl?

Young owlets that have recently left the nest sometimes spend a few days on the ground before they learn to fly. These young owls can still appear downy, and may hiss or spread their wings if approached. Unless there is a clear sign of injury (blood, mangled wing, etc.) or sickness, or they are in immediate danger, do not intervene. These birds are learning to fly and care for themselves, and are still being fed by their parents. Only licensed raptor rehabilitators can take in and care for orphaned or injured birds of prey, including owls, hawks, falcons, eagles, and vultures. If you feel an owl needs human help, or need advice, contact a licensed raptor rehabilitator first.


I think an owl has been killing my chickens

Owls (usually Great Horned Owls) sometimes take chickens when they are not kept in a secure coop and run with overhead protection from aerial predators. Signs of owl depredation include missing chickens or carcasses found out in the open with only the head missing, usually overnight. Providing overhead protection is the best way to protect your chickens from aerial predators; bright orange poultry netting, chicken tractors, and covered runs are all effective methods.


An owl is swooping at people

Owls are devoted parents and can be protective of their young. On rare occasion, individual owls have been known to swoop at people passing too close to the nest or owlets that are still learning to fly. In these situations, avoiding the immediate area for a few weeks, (or in the case of owlets outside the nest, 24 hours), can prevent issues. If the area must be approached during this time, an open umbrella or bike helmet can be used to provide head protection and avoid any possibility of injury. 


If you feel a problem situation involving an owl justifies its physical removal and you have already tried the strategies listed above, please contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services to learn about federal depredation permit options. Federal permits are issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but Wildlife Services can provide guidance on the application process. Be aware, these permits are issued under very limited circumstances. Because owls can fly, relocation is almost never effective; these permits involve allowing lethal removal of the birds. USDA Wildlife Services' toll free number is (866) 4USDA-WS (866-487-3297).