About Barred Owls

Barred Owl sitting on a branch.

The first time I heard Barred Owls was on a camp-out. Two of them were trading calls in the middle of the night from each side of a wide field. The sound was positively eerie! And two times in the last week, I’ve heard a Barred Owl calling at about 4:30 a.m in my backyard. Now that I know what I’m hearing, it’s more fascinating than frightening! The Barred Owl’s most typical call, and the only one I’ve heard, has been described as a hooting, “who-cooks…who-cooks-for-you-all” with a drawn-out, descending “all” at the end. But many other vocalizations have been recorded. And of all the owls, he’s the one most likely to be heard in the daytime, although I’ve only heard them in the dark of night.

Listen to the call of the Barred Owl

Barred Owls are mainly nocturnal and hide their daytime roosts extremely well. They’re good-sized at about 21 inches long, with dark barring on the upper chest, hence their name, and a streaked breast. They have a round face with no ear tufts and they have dark eyes while most owls’ eyes are yellow. Interestingly, the owl’s ears are placed at different levels in its head to help determine if sounds are coming from above or below. And although an owl’s head has a great range of motion, it’s a myth that they can turn their heads completely around.

Like all owls, Barred Owls are carnivores and eat mammals such as mice, rabbits, bats, fish and snakes. They eat the entire animal and in the process, they swallow a lot of material they can’t digest, such as bones and fur. These are regurgitated in the form of a pellet. If you find these pellets under a tree, you’ll most likely discover an owl’s roosting spot above. Barred Owls are found in the eastern half of the U.S. and up into western Canada. As they progress westward, they have been blamed for usurping nesting sites of the Spotted Owl and also hybridizing with them, leading to lower populations of Spotted Owls. But the Barred Owl has its own problems—one of its major predators is the aggressive Great Horned Owl.

Barred Owls hardly ever build their own nests. They like to nest in tree holes that are caused by large fallen-off limbs, and in areas with abundant water. Their nests are sparsely lined with feathers or grasses. Barred Owls will also nest in abandoned crow’s nests or squirrel dreys. A pair will stay together in the same territory throughout the year spending the winter together and using the same nesting site in spring. After the young have fledged, they stay with the parents for a long time and the parents continue to feed them as they learn to hunt for themselves.

So listen in the night for the sound of the Barred Owl and keep a watch for telltale pellets when you’re walking in the woods. Someday you may be lucky enough to spot this noisy, but secretive owl.

Written by R. Brune

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  • Brenda Kula January 9, 2010 at 11:13 am

    I would so love to see an owl! I live in the city in East Texas, but my yard is designated a wildlife sanctuary by NWF.org. They have built a big bank across the street from my garden home this year, tearing down big pines in the process. So I hope to do all I can to let the wildlife know I shall embrace and entice them here.
    Brenda

  • Trish Belisle February 12, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    I had a barred owl in my backyard this fall. Took pictures too! Most of the trees are huge oaks. Blends real well. Spotted twice about one week apart. Probably was there more, just didn’t see. Did not appear nervous about me standing there taking its picture on both occasions. Marquette, MI

  • K Logan February 21, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    I believe I have one living in my backyard! I watched it for a good 5 minutes at dawn…that was almost a weekago…then I saw it this morning. After looking at this site, picture looks like what I have seen. I now will be looking to see if I have 2, but my yard is quite protective with OLD OLD Oak trees and bamboo. I would love to hear it! Western North Carolina Piedmont area.

  • Shelley April 21, 2010 at 10:11 am

    I have a pair living in my front tree…with 3 adorable baby’s. I watch the parents feed them every evening. I can’t help myself with the camera…lots of pictures. I believe I have a great horn owl around too…I see him occasionally…he’s bigger then the Barred owls. They don’t seem to mind you watching them as they watch you. This is there second year here with there second batch of baby’s…last year was just one baby. They’re welcomed here anytime. The squirrels were not to happy about being evicted from there home. We here about it every day. LOL

  • Jeannine May 4, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    I have had anywhere from four to six of them in my yard everyday for the last week. Some are a little smaller so I assume it is a little family. I have had great fun and taken many pictures. They are coming at all times of the day and into the night. This morning I started taking pictures about ten or so. It has been an amazing experience.

  • Nina Hansen May 12, 2010 at 8:59 am

    On a wet, heavily overcast day, I went to the Englewood (Ohio)Metro Park to attempt to see the Barred Owls which had been reported there.

    At the parking area, I got out of the car, turned my binoculars towards the woods and looked straight into the eyes of a pair of wet, bedraggled Barred Owls sitting on a horizontal branch not 40 feet away. They glared back at us, as though to say, “Why are you stalking us. Go away and leave us in peace.” Then one swooped down and came back up with a mouse. He turned his back on us, so we couldn’t watch him eating it. The other flew up to a taller tree nearby, but was immediately attacked by a pair of Blue Jays. The Jays actually pecked the poor thing’s back! The owls flew further into the woods, but we saw them again several times

  • Valerie July 28, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    We currently seem to have a family of barred owls living in our backyard. We heard screeching last night and wasn’t sure what to think. Today we have seen 2 owls and even had one become pretty aggressive. The first we saw around 5-6 p.m. This one was huge and hung out in a tree for a couple of hours and then swooped down to the ground and we lost site of it. We thought it was gone. Then a couple hours later we walked down back to the river bank and there was another one, much smaller this time, sitting right on our fire pit. We thought it would leave as we approached but it just bobbed it’s head around a lot until we were pretty close and then flew off. However it flew just a short ways, maybe 30 feet away and perched itself on a dead tree limb. We moved our chairs away a bit and sat down but kept on eye on it. It’s head was bobbing around like crazy and just as I said to my husband that I hoped the bobbing head didn’t mean it was getting mad, it flew right at us! We cleared out pretty fast! LOL I’ve been here researching owls for a few hours and am sure we have a family of them and the screeching sounds we heard last night were the “begging” calls of the babies. From what I’ve read we may have to share the yard for a while and that might get interesting. LOL Thank you to the creator of this site and blog, very informative and helpful to us tonight.

  • Joni and Andy October 17, 2012 at 10:14 am

    On October 15, 2012 about 10:30 in the morning, my husband and I were driving down Starr Route Road in Hocking Hills, Ohio when we hear a loud call. The owl flew in front of our car a landed in a tree nearby. We where able to stop in the road and watch each other for several minutes. It was the first time I have ever seen an owl in the wild and it was truely amazing. It was a plump, gorgous bird sitting in the tree with the fall colors for a backdrop! I will never forget my 18th Wedding Anniversary.

  • Joni and Andy October 17, 2012 at 10:15 am

    On October 15, 2012 about 10:30 in the morning, my husband and I were driving down Starr Route Road in Hocking Hills, Ohio when we hear a loud call. The owl flew in front of our car and landed in a tree nearby. We where able to stop in the road and watch each other for several minutes. It was the first time I have ever seen an owl in the wild and it was truely amazing. It was a plump, gorgous bird sitting in the tree with the fall colors for a backdrop! I will never forget my 18th Wedding Anniversary.

  • Joni and Andy October 17, 2012 at 10:16 am

    On October 15, 2012 about 10:30 in the morning, my husband and I were driving down Starr Route Road in Hocking Hills, Ohio when we hear a loud call. The owl flew in front of our car and landed in a tree nearby. We were able to stop in the road and watch each other for several minutes. It was the first time I have ever seen an owl in the wild and it was truely amazing. It was a plump, gorgous bird sitting in the tree with the fall colors for a backdrop! I will never forget my 18th Wedding Anniversary.

  • Joni and Andy October 17, 2012 at 10:19 am

    On October 15, 2012 about 10:30 in the morning, my husband and I were driving down Starr Route Road in Hocking Hills, Ohio when we hear a loud call. The owl flew in front of our car and landed in a tree nearby. We were able to stop in the road and watch each other (us and the owl) for several minutes. It was the first time I have ever seen an owl in the wild and it was truely amazing. It was a plump, gorgous bird sitting in the tree with the fall colors for a backdrop! I will never forget my 18th Wedding Anniversary thanks to the Barred Owl!

  • Donna Rasmussen December 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    I live in the city if Raleigh, North Carolina. A Barred Owl flew down to my deck railing and sat there for couple of hours last night. I walked out there and stood by the owl for a long time as I was trying to see what it was hunting. She was not bothered at all by me being there. She flew up and caught a bat and took it to a nearby tree. She came back 3 times throughout the night to sit on my deck railing in various spots. It was the first time I had seen this type of owl for all of the years I have lived here in Raleigh. I have many other critters that venture to my deck as well. A couple of hours after I had cooked on my grill, I went to put the grill cover back on… A huge raccoon was sleeping under the grill cover. It didn’t seem too scared, but it also didn’t hang around long. It was very cold that night. He came back later and slept under my grill in which the cover goes all the way down to the floor. Really I absolutely love wild life.

  • brenton jodrey January 11, 2013 at 2:06 am

    my parents own 93 acres of land and by times i hear these type owls at night, i am in new germany nova scotia , canada

  • John Johnson January 15, 2013 at 9:02 am

    I was on my way home last night about 8:30pm. I was going about 30 miles per hour and something came out of the woods and ran into the side of my car. I thought it was a small dog at first because it was down low. I turned around and it was an owl. From comparing pictures on other sites I think it is a barred owl. I took some pictures of it. It’s legs looked like a cat, but the claws were thick and about an inch long.
    Denver, North Carolina.

  • Brian O'Meara April 7, 2013 at 5:04 am

    I’ve had a pair nesting in the same box for 7 years now. I built the box and placed a video camera inside. Momma is on 3 ggs now as I type.
    Last night dad brought two salamanders to her (I believe but am puzzled). I am in Nova Scotia and it’s April 7th. It’s too cold outside for salamanders to be active so I can’t tell what he’s feeding her but that’s what they look like. Does anyone have any suggestions?
    I recorded his delivery and watched it many times. They look like salamanders. They’re not small snakes.
    Brian O’Meara Nova Scotia

  • Sonja Krautner April 21, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    We just saw our first barred owl. Looking out of the kitchen window into the woods, we saw him sitting on a tree limb, with his back to the trunk of the tree, his head turned away from us. It doesn’t seem to be too shy. We went out on the patio to take pictures, but because it was against the sun, were not successful. However, when my husband coughed, if finally turned his head into our direction and we could admire the beautiful face. He kept closing his eyes as if still vey sleepy but opened them now and then. The time we saw him was around 6:00 pm EDT and the sun was still shining brightly. I never thought to be seeing such a beautiful creature. We’ll keep an eye on it. Hopefully there is a pair and they are nesting somewhere close to the house. We have lots of bird feeders out that way and also two bird baths. Do they hunt small birds, I wonder?

  • Jay Allen May 1, 2013 at 10:46 am

    I’ve seen Barred Owls several times along the Hillsborough River at the Florida Trail at Hillsborough River State Park, near Tampa, Florida. The first time I saw two babies in trees. I would never have seen them, (they are brown and blend into the woods well) except that they were making a screeching sound. The next time I went on the trail, I heard the same hissing/screeching sound, and after searching for some time I was able to spot an adult Barred Owl. The owls were within 30 feet of the river both times I spotted them. They have dark, round eyes that are very penetrating, and a beautiful pattern on their bodies. Beautiful creatures.

  • Brian O'Meara December 8, 2014 at 7:50 am

    This is in response to Sonja Krautner. Yes they will eat small birds.
    I have seen them bring young birds into the nest box. They are usually the ones that fall out of a nest and can’t fly. They will take adult birds that are on the ground but aren’t fast enough to live off of them as falcons do.