Getting to Know Barred Owls

Thursday, April 13, 2017

If you've been into our store lately, you may have noticed there's some excitement brewing.  WBU's very own Barred Owl family has returned to the nesting box again this year and are currently taking care of three wee owlets who finished hatching April 10, 2017.

With this beautiful family capturing so much attention, we thought it would be fun to write a 'who's who' about the Barred Owl. We've included links to the Live Cam below for those who have yet to see this family in action.  We hope you enjoy!  ~ Jen


Habitat and Range

While originally a bird of the eastern regions, the Barred Owl expanded its range during the 20th century to include the Pacific Northwest and slightly southward into northern California.

A non-migratory bird, Barred Owls remain in one area their entire lives, rarely moving further than six miles from home base. Preferring dense, mature forests of mixed woodlands with a nearby water source, they maintain their approximately 700 acre territory year-round with the help of their mate, with whom they form a life-long, monogamous pairing.


A large, stocky owl, with rounded heads, no ear tufts, and medium rounded tails. Larger than a Barn Owl, but smaller than a Great Horned, they measure about 17-20 inches in length with a wingspan of 40-43 inches, and weigh on average 16-37 oz. As with many birds of prey, the females tend to be about a third larger than the males, however they are otherwise identical.

As you may have guessed from their name, Barred Owls are brown and white overall, with vertical brown bars against a white background on their lower body, and horizontal bars across the upper breast. They have deep brown eyes that almost appear black in color.  

A lot easier to hear than to see, their call is an instantly recognizable "Who Cooks for You".  You can often hear the female calling to the male while in the nest box on the live cam, almost as if she's checking in on the status of dinner.   You can hear more of these calls on the All About Birds website.

Diet and Hunting

Their diet is quite varied and includes many types of small animals: squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, rabbits, fish, reptiles, invertebrates, amphibians and even other small birds. So far this year, the nesting cam has shown the mother owl snacking on crawdads (crayfish), earthworms, fish, snakes, rabbits, mice and small birds to name a few.

They will often stockpile food in the nest box, and it's been noted in this particular pair on camera that they will "load up" the nesting box just before the first egg hatches in preparation.

Nesting and Raising Young

Barred Owls nest only once a year, with a clutch size of 1-5 eggs (average of 2-3). No one's sure who gets final say on the nest site, but they can have it chosen as early as a year before use. They seem to prefer a natural cavity in a large tree, about 20-40 feet high and about 10-13 inches wide. They are also inclined to use nesting boxes and even reuse platform nests created by other animals, such as hawks, crows and squirrels.  

Only mom incubates the eggs, with dad being in charge of feeding the family. The eggs incubate for about a month and once hatched, the pure white owlets will remain in the nest for another 28-35 days with mom. One fledged, the owlets remain in the nesting tree until they are able to fly on their own at the age of 10 weeks, and stay with each other throughout the summer, looking to mom and dad for food (typical teenagers) until they finally strike out on their own in the early fall .

Cool Facts

Predators of the Barred Owl include climbing mammals, such as raccoons and weasels; and Northern Goshawks; with the biggest threat coming from Great Horned Owls. 

The oldest Barred Owl living in wild (according to bird banding records) was at least 24 years of age! Normally, most would be lucky to live half that long.

Pleistocene fossils of Barred Owls, which were at least 11,000 years old, have been dug up in Florida, Tennessee, and Ontario.

Barred owls are called Chouette rayée in French and Búhu listado in Spanish.


Live Cam - Link and Details

Watch live at
Check out the live tweets from the feed here: Tweets by WBU Owls 

Jim Carpenter, President and CEO of Wild Birds Unlimited, has hosted a camera-equipped owl box in his wooded backyard in Zionsville, Indiana, since 1999. Set more than 30 feet high against the trunk of a pignut hickory tree, this Barred Owl box was first occupied in 2006. Since then, the box has hosted several nests, including successful attempts since 2013.
Credits to: Cornell Lab - All About Birds and Wild Birds Unlimited for their detailed information.

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