Barred Owls usually nest in a natural cavity, 20–40 feet high in a large tree. They may also use stick platform nests built by other animals (including hawks, crows, ravens, and squirrels), as well as human-made nest boxes. Barred Owls may prospect a nest site as early as a year before using it. No one knows whether the male or the female chooses the site.
Barred Owls do little or nothing to change an existing tree cavity or abandoned platform nest. They may add lichen, fresh green conifer sprigs, or feathers to a stick platform nest, and they may flatten or remove the top of an old squirrel nest. Cavities measure 10–13 inches wide and 14–21 inches deep (sometimes much deeper, with one cavity recorded as nearly 8 feet deep).
Pure white, with a rough surface.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless and covered with white down, with closed eyes.
Barred Owls eat many kinds of small animals, including squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, rabbits, birds (up to the size of grouse), amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates. They hunt by sitting and waiting on an elevated perch, while scanning all around for prey with their sharp eyes and ears. They may perch over water and drop down to catch fish, or even wade in shallow water in pursuit of fish and crayfish. Though they do most of their hunting right after sunset and during the night, sometimes they feed during the day. Barred Owls may temporarily store their prey in a nest, in the crook of a branch, or at the top of a snag. They swallow small prey whole and large prey in pieces, eating the head first and then the body.
Barred Owls have a distinctive hooting call of 8–9 notes, described as “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” This call carries well through the woods and is fairly easy to imitate. During courtship, mated pairs perform a riotous duet of cackles, hoots, caws and gurgles.more sounds
About the Nest
Jim Carpenter, President and CEO of Wild Birds Unlimited, has hosted a camera-equipped owl box in his wooded backyard since 1999. Set more than 30 feet high against the trunk of a pignut hickory tree, this Barred Owl box was first occupied in 2006. Since then, the box has hosted several nests, including successful attempts since 2013.
The camera system was updated in 2013 with an Axis P3364LVE security camera and microphone mounted to the side of the box and connected to Jim’s house via 200 feet of ethernet cable. To keep predators like raccoons from investigating the nest, aluminum flashing was wrapped around the tree. An infrared illuminator in the box means you can keep track of the owls’ comings and goings throughout the night (don’t worry—the light is invisible to the owls).
About the Barred Owls
Since the birds aren’t banded, we can’t tell whether this is the same pair as in past years. Although male and female Barred Owls look alike in their plumage, females can be up to a third bigger than males. You can also tell the difference between them by watching their behavior; only the female incubates the eggs and chicks, but the male is responsible for the bulk of the feeding, ferrying prey items to the incubating female, and sharing them with her inside and outside of the box.
For the second year in a row, the female laid her first egg on March 5; if all goes well, we can expect the owlets to start hatching between April 5 – 10. They’ll leave the nest four to five weeks after hatching.
Learn more about Barred Owls in our AllAboutBirds Species Guide.