At a Glance
The rich baritone hooting of the Barred Owl is a characteristic sound in southern swamps, where members of a pair often will call back and forth to each other. Although the bird is mostly active at night, it will also call and even hunt in the daytime. Only a little smaller than the Great Horned Owl, the Barred Owl is markedly less aggressive, and competition with its tough cousin may keep the Barred out of more open woods.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Texas, Western Canada
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Permanent resident throughout its range, although individuals may wander away from nesting habitat in winter.
20" (51 cm). W. 3' 8 (1.1 m). A large, round-headed owl with dark eyes, no "ear" tufts. Marked with horizontal bars on chest, vertical stripes on belly.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, White, Yellow
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
A loud barking hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo; hoo, hoo; hoo, hooo-aw! and a variety of other barking calls and screams.
Complex, Falling, Undulating
Woodlands, wooded river bottoms, wooded swamps. Favors mostly dense and thick woods with only scattered clearings, especially in low-lying and swampy areas. Most common in deciduous or mixed woods in southeast, but in north and northwest may be found in mature coniferous trees.
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2-3, rarely 4. White. Incubation is mostly or entirely by female, about 28-33 days; male brings food to incubating female. Young: Female may remain with young much of time at first, while male hunts and brings back food for her and for young. Age of young at first flight about 6 weeks.
Female may remain with young much of time at first, while male hunts and brings back food for her and for young. Age of young at first flight about 6 weeks.
Hunts by night or day, perhaps most at dawn and dusk. Seeks prey by watching from perch, also by flying low through forest; may hover before dropping to clutch prey in talons.
Mostly small mammals. Eats many mice and other small rodents, also squirrels (including flying squirrels), rabbits, opossums, shrews, other small mammals. Also eats various birds, frogs, salamanders, snakes, lizards, some insects. May take aquatic creatures such as crayfish, crabs, fish.
Courtship involves both male and female bobbing and bowing heads, raising wings, and calling while perched close together. Male may feed female in courtship. Members of pair often call in duet. Nest site is in large natural hollow in tree, broken-off snag, or on old nest of hawk, crow, or squirrel. Rarely nests on ground. In east, often uses old Red-shouldered Hawk nest; hawk and owl may use same nest in alternate years.
Still widespread and common, although may have declined in parts of south with loss of swamp habitat. In recent decades, has expanded range in northwest, and is now competing there with Spotted Owl.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Barred Owl. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Barred Owl
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.