Barred Owl - Photo Earl Harrison

Barred Owl - Photo Arthur MorrisUnlike many of the interesting birds that inhabit our state, Barred Owls do not migrate south during our trying winter months. Their decision to stay and tough out the cold, windy weather along with fellow Ohioans should endear this species to us as they are as perseverant as we are.

Barred Owls are comparable in size to a Great Horned Owl (21″versus 22″) but their weight is considerably different as the average weight of a Barred Owl is 1.6 pounds, roughly half of the weight of a Great Horned Owl. They also differ in demeanor as Barred Owls are less fierce and would rarely attack a human, even if they approached a nest site.

The diet of a barred owl consists of mice and voles but they will also consume small frogs, reptiles and birds and all hunting is done during the night or twilight hours. Mice and voles constitute the vast majority of their food intake and their dependence on smaller prey is reflected in the size of their talons which are considerably smaller and less intimidating than those of other large raptors. Nature has conveniently matched their talons to the size of their prey!

In late winter/early spring, the nesting season begins for Barred Owls. Cavities are preferred for nesting and they may select one formed by a broken-off branch, a severed tree top or a hole that had been previously excavated by a pileated woodpecker. Barred Owls will also use man-made nest boxes but the thought of a volunteer walking into a thickly wooded area and hoisting a sizable wooden box more than 20 feet above the ground into a tree could be a little difficult for even the most ambitious nature lover.

Naturally occurring nest cavities selected by Barred Owls are usually 15-30 feet above the ground, 2 feet deep and the birds do not line the bottom of the cavity with any materials. If they are not able to locate a suitable nest cavity, they may opt to re-use the nest of a squirrel, crow or hawk, but that would clearly be an exception to their normal behavior.

Barred Owl Photo - Glenn BartleyThe female produces one brood of 2-3 white eggs that she will incubate for 28-33 days and the male Barred Owl will faithfully feed his mate while she carefully incubates the eggs. The young are ready to fledge in about 6 weeks after hatching, but the parents will continue to feed and care for the young owls until they are able to take care of themselves. Full independence may not occur for 4-6 months, quite longer than most other birds.

Should you find a pair of nesting Barred Owls, you might want to note the location since this species is known for their nest site fidelity. Mated pairs often return to the same location to nest each year and some pairs have nested in the same tree for many consecutive years.

Great Horned Owls are the largest threat to Barred Owls due to their size, power and ferocity. However, a mob of annoying crows or blue jays can easily harass a resting Barred Owl and force it to leave the comfort and security of its secluded, daytime roost. Once the owl has been flushed from its daytime resting spot it is susceptible to many other perils.