Bird of the Week – Barred Owl

Species: Barred Owl, or Strix varia

Family: Strigidae (True Owls)

Star sign: Aries

Rating: 13/10

Ideal Date: Picking up Spotted Owls at the local Vole Hole. 

Photo Courtesy of The Spruce

The Doyle Owl may be Reed’s most famous resident nocturnal raptor, but it is far from the only one that lives on campus. We also have a silly little guy called the Barred Owl. And he really is a resident; unlike many birds, these hooting hellions are extremely un-migratory, perhaps even anti-migratory. Cornell’s Birds of the World states that, of 158 North American banded owls that have been recovered by researchers, none were found more than 10 kilometers from where they were banded. Wow! What dedication to not moving! 

Intriguingly, despite this fact, Barred Owls only recently appeared in the Pacific Northwest. Prior to the twentieth century, Barred Owls were an exclusively eastern species, but today they can be found all throughout western North America. No one is really sure why. According to Birds of the World, most explanations are anthropogenic and include “fire suppression in the boreal forest, increasing age of forest and size of trees (for nests), and establishment of riparian forests and planting of shelterbelts in [Northern] Great Plains.” Sadly, this friend’s westward migration has threatened the native population of already-endangered Spotted Owls, which are closely related to the Barred Owls which often displace and hybridize with them. At the same time, the Barred Owl’s presence in many of its former native habitats has grown increasingly scarce. We may love this owl, but we do not love to see this sort of thing happening.

Even when remaining stationary, these barred boys also like their personal space, particularly from Great Horned Owls. Whenever a Great Horned Owl is sharing their territory with them, they will go out of their way to avoid it. Antisocial icons! But don’t mistake this behavior for weakness; like all owls, these friends are powerful predators and effective generalists, silently swooping down to capture and consume all manner of small to medium-sized birds, mammals, and reptiles. The young are also weirdly good at climbing trees. Says Birds of the World, “The bark is grasped by the beak and the feet ‘walk’ up the trunk while wings are flapped.” There are few things that would be more exciting to witness than a juvenile owl climbing up a tree like this!

As has been discussed, we have a Barred Owl on campus, so keep an eye out for him: he’s a large boy between the size of a crow and a Canada goose. Unlike many of his fellow owls, he lacks ear tufts; this friend’s head is smooth and round, with a yellowish beak and big, dark eyes inlaid in the classic owlish white facial disc. Their bodies are uniformly colored brown and white, though the patterning varies. On their bodies it’s patternless mottling, on their stomachs it’s vertical brown bars on a white background, and on their necks they have thin horizontal barring. Our resident Barred Owl has been seen multiple times at dusk, perched on branches overlooking the orange bridge. That said, you’re more likely to hear this friend than see him; his barking call is said to sound a little like someone saying “Who cooks for you?” and while most bird call phrases such as this one are total horse shit, this one’s actually pretty accurate! So be sure to watch out for Reed’s other cool owl dude!

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