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The Barred Owl (Strix varia)

The Barred Owl is a large owl that inhabits dense forests across North America and has one of the most eerie calls of all birds. It goes by numerous other names like the striped owl, wood owl and rain owl.


Adults are 42-62 cm (16.5-25 inches) in length. The Barred Owl typically has a pale to white face with black ring around the eyes. The back is brownish with specks of white while the chest is white striped horizontally (barred) with brown streaks. The head is round, with no ear tuffs while eyes are brown. The beak is bright yellow and almost fully covered by the features of the face.

Barred Owl
Barred Owl photo taken on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Habitat and Behavior

The Barred Owl can be found in dense woods across Canada, the eastern US and western Mexico and is steadily expanding its western territory in the US and Canada.

Like most owls, the Barred owl is nocturnal, spending most of the day light hours in the dense branches of trees. They are a highly vocal owl with a very loud and spooky call in a series of eight emphasized hoots. It will call both in the night and in day.

These owls will breed between March and August, making nests in tree cavities. The female lays two to four eggs and incubation takes about 30 days. Once the chicks are hatched the parents will take care of the fledgings for at least 4 months.


Barred Owls hunt after dusk, and feed mostly on voles, shrews, and mice. It will take a perch on a branch overlooking a possible area that contains prey and wait. If prey does appear, it quickly and silently dives down on it.

They have also been known as opportunist predators and will take rats, squirrels, opossums and even other birds like grouse and pigeons if the chance presents its self.  Oddly, they don’t seem to have any problem wading into water to eat fish, frogs and even crayfish.

Viewing and Photography

Because Barred Owls spend their days hidden in the high branches of trees, they can be hard to locate for daytime photos. Your best chances are to listen at night for their loud calls, trying to zero in to the general area that contains the owls by sound. When you’re close, use a bright flashlight to find them by shinning it in the tree until you see the reflections of the owls eyes. You can then return in the day time with binoculars and try to find their perch.  Of course, you can also do night photo of the owls if you have a powerful enough flash.

For owl photography, I would recommend telephoto lens that has a zoom of at least 300mm or more. You may also want to bring a teleconverter to increase your zoom capabilities. Since you’ll be shooting in areas of low light with a telephoto lens, a good tripod is mandatory for keeping your pictures free from blurring. If you can afford it, a lens with a fast F-stop is your best choice.

wood owl