04 December 2018
Barred Owl (Strix varia) is not uncommon in our area, although as is the case with most owls, finding them is a different matter entirely.
Francine gets the credit for spotting this individual during our regular Tuesday walk.
Once located, Barred Owls are generally not prone to immediately fleeing the scene and will tolerate human presence. Such was the case with this individual; it was certainly aware of us but made no attempt to leave.
Barred Owl is a medium sized owl, ranging from 48.25cm - 56cm, with pronounced sexual dimorphism, females frequently being substantially larger than males.
It is probably fairly long-lived in the wild, although statistics are not readily available. The average age of re-encounter for banded birds is 2.5 years, but the record for longevity is 24 years 1 month, and that Minnesota bird died as a result of being entangled in fishing gear. No doubt the jettisoned mono filament line was far too heavy and cumbersome for the anglers to remove it when they left.
Barred Owls are in general non migratory. Historical accounts speak vaguely of "great flights" but such assertions are not supported by factual evidence, and no such large scale movements have been documented in the past century.
Typical habitat is moist forest, precisely the feature in which this bird was located, although with anthropogenic modification of the landscape Barred Owls have become slightly more adaptable.
A.C. Bent observed in the 1930s "Barred Owls live mainly in deep, dark woods, heavily wooded swamps, gloomy hemlock forests, or the thick growths of tall, dense pines." In Bent's day more such habitat existed. In recent years Miriam and I have observed an individual perched on a branch over a road.
The primary diet of Barred Owls is rodents, with mice, rats, voles and shrews predominant. However, like most birds of prey, Barred Owls are opportunistic and will take other small mammals and birds as large as Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). In some areas birds are a close second to mammalian prey.
Barred Owls are too large to take advantage of even the largest woodpecker hole as a nesting cavity and rely on snags, rot holes and broken branches. Sometimes they will uses large stick nests from crows and hawks, and other large birds, even the disused nest of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). Their normal clutch is two to three eggs. Hatching is asynchronous; in a year of food abundance all the owlets are likely to survive to fledging, in years of scarcity the last born will succumb to starvation.
For me, any encounter with an owl is memorable and this was no exception. I derived enormous pleasure from it and I know that the others did too.