Owl Wednesday

The barred owl (Strix varia) is a noctural North American owl with a long life (10 years in the wild, up to 32 years in captivity. The Owl Pages list its many names (my emphasis):

The first description of a Barred Owl was published in 1799 by amateur naturalist Benjamin Smith Barton. In Latin, “varia” is a form of the word “varius“, meaning diverse. It has also been known as Northern Barred Owl, Swamp Owl, Striped Owl, Hoot Owl, Eight hooter, Round-headed Owl, Le Chat-huant du Nord (French for “The Hooting Cat of the North”), Wood Owl, and Rain Owl. It is also mistakenly known as a Bard Owl.

Here’s its distribution:

But perhaps the most striking thing about this owl, which gives it the name “hoot owl,” is its distinctive call. The Owl Pages say:

Voice: The Barred Owl is a highly vocal Owl giving a loud and resounding “hoo, hoo, too-HOO; hoo, hoo, too-HOO, ooo” which is often phrased as “Who, cooks, for-you? Who, cooks, for-you, all?” – The last syllable drops off noticeably. Like some other Owl species, they will call in the daytime as well as at night. The calls are often heard in a series of eight, then silence, when the Owl listens for a reply from other Owls. Other calls include “hoo-hoo, hoo-WAAAHH” and “hoo-WAAAHHH” used in courtship. Mates will duet, but the male’s voice is deeper and mellower. Many other vocalisations are made which range from a short yelp or bark to a frenzied and raucous monkey-like squall.

Here—have a listen!


  1. drbobdrbob
    Posted April 18, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    The barred owl pair that took to the nesting box that we’d provided for them a couple years earlier have had owlets (a pair three times, a trio two times, and we’re not yet sure how many there are this year) for six years in a row. We’ve got the coolest picture of Mama Owl with the back half of a rat (Papa had just dropped it off to her) and three owlets with her waiting for their share.

    In the case of our pair, we can tell the difference between Mama’s and Papa’s hoots as Mama trills the “all” of “who cooks for you all.” And yes, the “raucous, monkey-like squall” was at first a bit unsettling in the middle of the night until we learned who was doing it. Now the hooting and squalling gives us a feeling that things are right with the world … at least in our back yard.

    • Marella
      Posted April 18, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      It’s very nice that YOU have a cool picture but why don’t WE!! Please to post cool picture of rat arse. 😉

      • TrineBM
        Posted April 19, 2012 at 1:27 am | Permalink

        To quote an often repeated internet-plea:
        “This post is useless without (a) picture(s)!”
        It sounds like an amazing adventure to have these beautiful birds so close. Tell more 🙂

  2. debonnesnouvelles
    Posted April 18, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating! Thank you for posting owl week.

  3. Posted April 18, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    A friend shared this YouTube video last night and I immediately thought of your blog.

  4. Rachel
    Posted April 18, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink


  5. Posted April 18, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    I can personally confirm that Georgia is within their range–on a recent night on the Appalachian Trail they held a 1:00 AM convention just outside my tent!

    • Dominic
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 1:25 am | Permalink

      I was going to say, that isolated population in Mexico, presumably the range as with all the northern hemisphere birds, the isolation of such groups reflects expansion from ‘refugia’ of some populations at the end of the last glaciation, & subsequent loss of suitable habitat inbetween? I wonder how close the Mexican population is to becoming an incipient new species? Anyone any counter-arguments?

      The Wikipedia entry says they are still spreading on the west coast…

  6. Posted April 18, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    This confirms what I’ve long suspected – what I hear from the woods behind my house are barred owls, not funny-sounding dogs!

    And Jerry’s owlishness suggests philosophical predispositions – the Athenian owl has long symbolized philosophy!

    • Hempenstein
      Posted April 18, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      And here’s the numismatic version of the Athenian owl plus more history (click the image for a full-screen version).

      Otherwise I am quite envious of anyone who regularly has owls camped out back of their abode. Despite 30 vacant acres behind me, I only occasionally hear screech owls, and have only seen them twice.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted April 18, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        And now I learn that it’s been reprised on the Greek 1€ coin, to boot.

  7. John K.
    Posted April 18, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    On the surface, owls and cats seem like they would have to be mutually exclusive interests. I must admit I am quite taken with the recent owl posts though.

    I don’t even want to know what PZ’s opinion of owls is.

  8. mday
    Posted April 18, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I love barred owls. When my wife and I lived in Virginia, near Richmond, we rented a small cottage surrounded by woods. The barred owls would wake us up at night, and often sounded like some sort of howling monkeys deep in the forest (I have always assumed this was during courtship/mating). So, I can confirm the “monkey-like squall”. We hear them here in Georgia near Athens just as often.

  9. Bernie Grossman
    Posted April 18, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Barred Owls are not strictly nocturnal. We have seen them active during the daytime on many occasions. One fall afternoon while doing yard work at our house in upstate NY, I saw a large bird fly through the woods behind us. It then moved to a tree on the yard border revealing itself to be a Barred Owl. It was fun watching it get mobbed by the local smaller passerines. After a bit of this harrassment, it flew away.

    • JBlilie
      Posted April 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I’ve seen them flying by day many times.

  10. JBlilie
    Posted April 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard and seen these many times in the Minnesot anorth woods. Wonderful birds.

  11. Diego
    Posted April 18, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    My neighborhood Barred Owl must have known this was coming because he’s been going all out every night this week.

  12. mb
    Posted April 18, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what accounts for the strange distribution west through Canada? Doesn’t seem like forest coverage explains it though they clearly don’t hang out in the relatively treeless Great Plains west to CA.

    • JBlilie
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      Try correlating to a minimum annual rainfall level (and forest distribution). That’s what it looks like to me: Trees and rain.

      • JBlilie
        Posted April 19, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

        With a northern latitude limit as well.

  13. Posted April 19, 2012 at 12:48 am | Permalink


  14. Bonetired
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    Bard Owl? How could they make that mistake? They live just down the road from me in Stratford ….

  15. John Harshman
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    I love barred owls. I have a barred owl ringtone. But they’re also the main reason that northern spotted owls are currently threatened. They’re expanding their range in the northwest at the expense of spotted owls. (Of course, human actions are at the bottom of it.)

  16. Posted April 20, 2012 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    I can confirm part of the western extent of their range… I regularly hear barred owls in my corner of western Missouri (outside of Liberty, near Kansas City). There’s extensive farmland immediately to the south of our neighbourhood, and I’ve seen owls on two occasions at dusk. One night, an owl was so close that its calls interrupted my reading to my children at bedtime! Also heard the courtship call, although I didn’t realise the time that that was what I was hearing. Thanks for the post!

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