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Did you think this was going to be about something other than owls?
Shame on You
Below this paragraph, all blue text on this page is a clickable live link. Also, when you see the word “Hooter” it is a live link to an additional owl photo and is well worth clicking. (Note: Upon opening many of the owl photo links, you will find that the images may be clicked on to further enlarge them.) All links will open in a seperate window.
The first description of a Barred Owl was published in 1799 by amateur naturalist Benjamin Smith Barton. In Latin, “varia” is a form of the word “varius“, meaning diverse. It has also been known as Northern Barred Owl, Swamp Owl, Striped Owl, Hoot Owl, Eight hooter, Round-headed Owl, Le Chat-huant du Nord (French for “The Hooting Cat of the North”), Wood Owl, and Rain Owl. It is also mistakenly known as a Bard Owl.
Description: The Barred Owl is a medium-sized gray-brown Owl streaked with white horizontal barring on the chest and vertical barring on the belly. They are round-headed with a whitish/brown facial disc with dark brown trim. The eyes are brown, and the beak is yellow and almost covered by feathers. They have a long tail. There is no difference in plumage between males and the larger females.
Size: Length 40-63 cm (16-25 inches) Wingspan 96-125 cm (38-50 inches)
Weight: 500-1050 grams (17.5-37 oz) (average male 617g, average female 779g)
Voice: The Barred Owl is a highly vocal Owl giving a loud and resounding “hoo, hoo, too-HOO; hoo, hoo, too-HOO, ooo” which is often phrased as “Who, cooks, for-you? Who, cooks, for-you, all?” The last syllable drops off noticeably. Like some other Owl species, they will call in the daytime as well as at night. The calls are often heard in a series of eight, then silence, when the Owl listens for a reply from other Owls. Other calls include “hoo-hoo, hoo-WAAAHH” and “hoo-WAAAHHH” used in courtship. Mates will duet, but the male’s voice is deeper and mellower. Many other vocalizations are made which range from a short yelp or bark to a frenzied and raucous monkey-like squall.
Hunting & Food: A very opportunistic hunter, a Barred Owl can sometimes be seen hunting before dark. This typically occurs during the nesting season or on dark and cloudy days. A Barred Owl will use a perch, from where it dives upon its prey – meadow voles are its main prey, followed by shrews and deer mice. Other mammals include rats, squirrels, young rabbits, bats, moles, opossums, mink, and weasels. Birds are taken occasionally, including woodpeckers, grouse, quail, jays, blackbirds, and pigeons. They also eat small fish, turtles, frogs, snakes, lizards, crayfish, scorpions, beetles, crickets, and grasshoppers. Birds are taken as they settle into nocturnal roosts, because they cannot catch birds on the wing. They will also swoop down to the water’s edge to catch frogs, other amphibians, and occasionally fish. Barred Owls are attracted to campfires and lights where they forage for large insects. Prey is usually devoured on the spot. Larger prey is carried to a feeding perch and torn apart before eating.
Breeding: Barred Owls calls year-round but courtship activities begin in February with breeding occurring between March and August. Males hoot and females give contact calls. As the nesting season approaches, males chase after females giving a variety of hooting and screeching calls. Males display by swaying back and forth, and raising their wings, while sidling along a branch. Courtship feeding and mutual preening also occur. Barred Owls nest in cavities and will also use abandoned Red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Squirrel, or Crow nests. Eggs number 2-4 and are white, and almost perfectly round, with a slightly rough texture. They are likely laid every 2 to 3 days and incubation begins with the first egg laid. Incubation period is 28-33 days. The Male brings food to the female while she is on the nest. The Barred Owl is single-brooded but has a long breeding season, which allows for the laying of replacement clutches if the first clutch or brood is lost. When the young leave the nest, at about 4 weeks, they are not able to fly, but crawl out of the nest using their beak and talons to sit on branches. These Owls are called branchers. They fledge at 35 to 40 days. Once they lose their down, there is no difference between adult and juvenile plumage. Parents care for the young for at least 4 months, much longer than most other Owls. Young tend to disperse very short distances, usually less than 10 kilometers (6 miles), before settling. Pairs mate for life and territories and nest sites are maintained for many years.
Mortality: Barred Owls have been known to live up to 23 years in captivity and 10 years in the wild. Most deaths are likely to be related to man (shootings, road kills etc). Great Horned Owls and Eagles are their only natural enemy.
Habitat: Barred Owls prefer deep moist forests, wooded swamps, and woodlands near waterways. Territories are 85-365 hectares (213-903 acres).
Distribution: The Barred Owl is widespread in North America, they occur across most of the eastern half of the continent from Florida northward to southern Canada; they are also spreading westward in the north of their range. Their spread westward is causing concern as they may compete with the endangered Spotted Owl Strix occidentalis. Northern populations may be partially migratory depending on food resources.
I’m lucky enough to have a vast population of Hooters in this area and on my property. It’s always a treat to sit out on the porch and listen to the chorus. The more owls hooting, the better it is. Some nights it’s like a bunch of them have gotten together to put on a concert. I have counted as many as seven of them hooting back and forth at each other. Their voices would be coming from all different directions and distances. Some times it will be just one lonely Hooters calling out for a buddy or, most likely, a date. The Barred “Hooter“ Owl is fairly easy for humans to imitate and I can do a pretty good job of getting a response from a poor lil’ lonely Hooter. It’s a trip when a human can get a creature like that to carry on a conversation. I guess you’d have to try it to really get a sense of the feeling it gives you. When more than one owl are in concert it’s best to not butt in, as it will confuse them and usually make them hush up. Barred Owls have individual unique voices that are personalized to each bird. They also have unique dialects common to the other Hooters in their area. Barred Owls from here might sound slightly peculiar to the ones where you’re at. It’s no different than a Texan and a New Yorker sounding a bit odd to each other. In New York, even people from different parts of the state sound different to each other, not to mention people from separate boroughs within NYC sounding different. Right CJ?
The audio at the above link was a female calling out twice to a male and then he answered her. She must have said something really nice, because he got a bit excited, as per the squawking following his standard hoot reply.
Barred “Hooter“ Owls have a variety of vocalizations that can be categorized according to certain characteristics (e.g., number and pattern of notes related to changes in pitch) that are consistently similar for individual owls (e.g., 8-note call). Individual owls may exhibit minor variations that are consistently repeated and allow unique identification. Most (probably all) Barred Owls have the capability to alter a standard call with a variation of that call. Many variations are similar between owls, while others appear to be unique to individual owls. Both sexes can have a gurgle sound applied to the last note of the 8-note series and the 1-note call. During bouts of simultaneous calling, a “cawing” quality is usually present. Some calls are heard almost exclusively from one sex (e.g., female whistle), but it is likely that either sex is capable of doing any call.
Bouts of simultaneous calling can be very entertaining as both sexes get excited and stimulated by the calls of the other. The bouts can include the standard calls, variations, bits and pieces of standard calls, and plain weird sounds. Bouts can be long, short or recurring. Often one of the adults (usually the male) will continue with one of the standard calls when the bout of simultaneous calling is completed. It is not a duet in the sense of calls being synchronized or dependent upon other calls. It’s a Hooter free-for-all.
The link below is an example of multiple Hooters all simultaneously calling out. It’s a brief example of a Hooter “Concert” that I mentioned earlier in this post. As I said previously, I have counted as many as seven Hooters all going at it at once. It can last for long periods of time and is one of the most bizarre things that you could ever hear, while outside in the night’s darkness. When I’m lucky enough to encounter their chorus, I will sit and listen for as long as they are willing to perform. It’s a great show and you don’t even have to buy a ticket, as they do it all for free.
During a full day and partial night that it took for me to create this post, I took many breaks in which, I walked out into the backyard and on several occasions I was able to hear the owls talk. They’re always around and it’s always a pleasure to listen to them!