By Katie Nelson
The Barred Owl, or Strix Varia, is a year-round resident of New England, but is more commonly seen in snowy months. Food sources begin to diminish, or are hidden beneath the snow. As searches for food are longer and more frequent, they become more visible. They also show up more against the white tones of winter than in the more dense vegetation and greens and browns of summer.
Barred Owls have brown and white mottled stripes, a round head, and large dark eyes. They nest in tree cavities, with no preference as to conifer or deciduous trees. They usually nest near water sources. They will also use a nest box, and plans for these can be found on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, or by clicking here. They do not migrate, and studies show they have a maximum range of six miles from their nesting site. Their call is a distinctive “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” It can be heard all throughout the year, especially on quiet nights. Since they are nocturnal, this is when they are most vocal. You may hear them calling back and forth to each other, and they might even respond to a person who tries to mimic their call.
They eat mice and other rodents, fish, amphibians, and smaller birds. Once there were wing marks in the snow at my house where one swooped down for some prey. It was cool because there were no footprints, just the wing marks. Owls eat their food whole, so they cough up pellets which are made up of all the skin, fur, bones, or feathers that were on the animal. If you look under a tree where an owl has been roosting, you may find an owl pellet or two, and these can be interesting to dissect! Some of the Barred Owl's predators include Great Horned Owls and various hawks. If a Great Horned Owl is nesting in a Barred Owl's territory the Barred Owl will leave that area so as to not be eaten.
I find barred owls quite interesting, they are pretty and graceful, and I am always happy when I get to see one.
Katie is the new Editor of our "Bird-of-the-Month" feature. All Harriers members who see or hear a Barred Owl in the month of January will receive a prize. Write to Katie at firstname.lastname@example.org to report your sightings!