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 thought!
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.