Barred Owl (Strix varia)
An owl native to Chattanooga and a favorite Animal Ambassador at Reflection
Rounded head, no ear tufts, large brown eyes— No this is not the description of the next Hollywood star. It’s Reflection’s very own Barred owl (scientific name, Strix varia)! Reflection houses two barred owls as part of our Animal Ambassador team, and you're likely to see one in your own backyard or on our property if you keep your eyes open.
As for our captive individuals, you are likely to see one of our Barred owls perched in his enclosure and the other is a star in many school programs. You may even see him taking a walk with a caregiver. Our barred owls came to us from a local rehabilitator. One suffered a broken wing from a trauma that rendered him non-releasable. The other has neurological deficits and a crossed bill from malnutrition in the egg. He also had a severe ulcer in one eye which was later enucleated. Both play a very important role in educating our visitors about their species and how to respect their habitat.
Barred owls live mostly in the Eastern United States; their western counterpart is the endangered Spotted Owl. Barred Owls are medium-sized at 17”-24” in length with a 40”-50” wingspan. They have no ear tufts (like the Great Horned Owl) on their round heads. Males and females have identical plumage with vertical brown and white stripes or barring on their chest and belly, hence the name.
As is the case with all raptors, the female barred owl is larger than the male. Weight range is 470-1050 grams, so as a fairly good guesstimate if the owl is at the low end of the range, it’s a male; high end, female. When a keeper does not know the sex of a raptor, weight guides for the species are rough indicators. There are always outliers, though. The barred owl appears similar in size to the Great Horned Owl, but is not nearly as powerful, having smaller talons and weighing much less. Owls are made up mostly of feathers and essentially hollow bones! Our barred owl will frequently “puff up” his feathers making himself appear much larger and fiercer than he really is!
Another noted feature of the barred owl is his very distinctive call that can be heard both late afternoon and night. It’s made up of 8 hoots that can be translated as “Who cooks for you, Who cooks for you all”. The next time you hear one, repeat his call. He might answer back!
The barred owl lives in heavy mature woods, preferably old-growth deciduous forests, with nearby open fields for hunting. They are nocturnal, but it is not unusual to see or hear one during the day. Barred owls have an extremely varied diet composed mostly of small mammals, especially rodents, along with a good percentage of birds. They also enjoy amphibians, reptiles and have been known to wade into the water to catch a fish or crawdad. They are opportunistic foragers taking whatever is available and within their power to overwhelm. Barred owls are the only true owl with brown eyes as opposed to the more common yellow owl eye. With very keen day and night eyesight and excellent hearing, the barred owl is a formidable hunter. The Great Horned Owl is the barred owl’s main predator besides humans.
The breeding season for this monogamous owl is fairly long, ranging from February to August depending on the region. They choose cavities of trees or abandoned nests for nesting. They will also choose a properly sized and placed nest box. Clutch size is usually 2-3 pure white eggs with an incubation time of 28-33 days. The owlets begin to leave the nest at 4-5 weeks old, testing their balance on nearby limbs. However, they do not fledge until they are about 6 weeks old and may continue to receive food from the parents for as long as 4 months.
The barred owl is one of the most abundant owls in Tennessee and the Eastern United States so your chances of seeing or hearing one are pretty good. Come by the nature center to see our barred owls and practice your barred owl call. Clean up the binoculars, get out in the forest, learn the call and get ready for your barred owl encounter!
Learn more and share your sightings on inaturalist.
At left: a juvenile Barred owl (Strix varia) named Crossley for his crossed beak. He wouldn't have survived in the wild so has joined us as an Animal Ambassador.