North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Barred Owl

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


Photo: Jennifer Rowe

Species Profile

                        

 

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 rehabiliator.

 

 

 

Barred owls are fully protected by law as are all birds of prey. 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.

Please contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services for any issues with this species. The toll free number is (866) 4USDA-WS (866-487-3297)