Sovah was a Barred Owl of unknown sex and age who came to us as an adult in
November of 2003 from Whidbey Island. He is rather small in comparison to other
Barred Owls, so we consider him to be male. Sovah was found sitting on the
ground, most likely as a result of being hit by a car. He suffered severe head
trauma, and as a result, his left retina is detached and his right eye is also
compromised. Fortunately, Sovah was released back to Whidbey Island in February
of 2005 after it was determined that he could see much more than we initially
Barred Owls are named for the barring (striped) pattern on their chests and
bellies. They have very dark eyes, light gray facial disks, and bright
yellow bills. They are very similar in appearance to the spotted owl; the
only main difference being that the spotted owl has spots on its chest
rather than bars. Barred owls nest in cavities and will even use abandoned
nests of red-shouldered hawks, coopers hawks, squirrels, and crows. They lay
2-4 eggs every 2-3 days, which are white and almost perfectly round. At
about four weeks the young leave the nest but as they are not able to fly,
crawl out of the nest using their beak and talons and sit on branches; these
owls are often referred to as branchers. Parents care for the young for at
least 4 months, which is a lot longer than most owl species.
Barred owls live in dense, moist, old growth forests and wooded swamps and
can be found across most of the eastern half of the U.S. and up into Canada.
They are spreading westward and are already coming down into Washington
state. Barred owls do not migrate. Their dense feathering is useful during
cold winter months and they will sit in a hunched position in order to keep
their feet covered by their feathers. Barred owls share some of their
habitat with spotted owls, which are sadly suffering from human expansion
and deforestation. In addition to the effects that humans are having on the
spotted owl, when forced to share the same habitat as the more aggressive
barred owl, many spotted owls are pushed out, causing many to die before
finding another suitable home. On occasion, however, these birds when living
in the same habitat will mate and produce offspring known as “sparred” owls.
Unfortunately, these offspring are likely sterile.
Barred owls are not picky eaters. They are very opportunistic and will eat
just about anything, ranging from small rodents to amphibians, small fish,
insects, other birds, rabbits, squirrels, and a variety of other creatures.
Unlike most owls, barred owls are very talkative and curious and will call
in the daytime as well as at night. They will answer poor imitations of
their call and sometimes will even come investigate, which makes barred owls
one of the easiest nighttime raptors to hear and see. Their most well-known
call is a loud and resounding "hoo hoo too-hoo, hoo hoo too-hoo, ooo," which
sounds a lot like "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" Other
vocalizations include "hoo-waaaaahh" most often used in courtship, as well
as short yelps, barks, or monkey-like squalls.