BARRED OWL  Strix variaStrix varia

The Barred Owl is the “Hoot Owl” of forested areas, well-known for its hooting call “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all”. However, it is also the most vocal of North American owls and has the widest range of calls including weird shrieks, screams, cries, trillings, grumbles, and squeaks (Karalus and Eckert  1974).It is associated with large trees in old-growth forests where it relies on tree cavities for nests. Therefore, it is often used as one of the species in habitat suitability index models to determine the status of forests and their management.

DISTRIBUTION: Barred Owls are uncommon to common residents in the eastern forested areas of Texas in the Pineywoods, Post Oak Savannah and Blackland Prairies, and Coastal Prairies regions. TBBA observers did not find breeding evidence west of the 100th meridian with most records east of the 99th (TBBA, Lockwood and Freeman 2004). Comparison of the TBBA map with the summer and breeding symbols on the map in Oberholser (1974) suggests breeding of the Barred Owl in Texas no longer extends as far west or northwest as in historic times.

SEASONAL OCCURRENCE: Barred Owls are year-round residents of Texas. They breed from late January to late June, based on egg dates from  February 2-June 4 (Oberholser 1974).

BREEDING HABITAT: In Texas, Barred Owls require mature, old-growth forests in which to nest. Habitats include bottomland forests, borders of streams, swamps, marshes, low meadows and isolated upland woodlots if they contain numerous large trees (Mazur and James 2000). These habitats coincide very closely with those of the Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) with which Barred Owls often nest in close proximity without apparent conflict. They often use the same nest in alternate years or occasionally use the same nest successively in the same season. There are some cases of mixed clutches which one or both species may incubate (Bent 1937, 1938). Also, the two raptor species eat similar prey and hunt in the same area, one by night the other by day (Bent 1937).

Nest sites are often in deciduous trees, primarily in cavities formed by disease, broken branches, or cavities in the tops of broken trees (snags), but, these owls  will use openplatform stick- style nests built by hawks, crows, or squirrels. In east Texas, there is a report of a nest in a natural hole in an earthen bank (Shackelford and Earley 1996). In cavity nests, there are no nest materials. Barred Owls are monogamous and hold territories within which cavity nests may be reused for many years (Mazur and James 2000). Only one brood is produced per year unless the first set of eggs is destroyed, and rarely, a third set will be laid to replace a second set (Karalus and Eckert 1974).

Optimum reproductive habitat for the Barred Owl is considered to be a forest stand that has ≥ five 51 cm (20 in) dbh (diameter at breast height) trees per ha (2.5 acres), a mean overstory tree dbh of ≥ 51 cm (20 in), and an overstory canopy cover ≥ 60%). Minimal size of acceptable contiguous forest is unknown; however, these owls require large areas of old- growth trees for nesting(Allen 1987).

STATUS: Deforestation and harvesting of large trees degrades Barred Owl habitat. Also, bottomland forests have been greatly reduced by reservoir construction and inundation and adjacent development (Gunter and Oelschlaeger 1997,Telfair 1999). Increased opening and fragmentation of contiguous forests creates habitat more suitable to the more aggressive Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) which feed on nestling, fledgling, and adult Barred Owls (Mazur and James 2000).

North American Breeding Bird survey data for Texas (Sauer et al. 2005) give annual trends of 28.9% (1966-1979), 1.1% (1980-2005), and -0.4% (1966-2005); thus, showing  a  decreasing  trend.
Text by Raymond C. Telfair II (2007)

Texas Breeding Bird Atlas map

Literature cited.

Allen, A. W. 1987. Habitat suitability index models: Barred Owl. U.S. Dept. Interior, Fish Wildl. Serv. Biol. Rep. 82(10.143): 1-17.Bent, A. C. 1937. Life histories of North American birds of prey. Pt. 1. U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. 167.

Bent, A. C. 1938. Life histories of North American birds of prey. Pt. 2. U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. 170.

Gunter, P. A. Y. and M. Oelschlaeger. 1997. Texas land ethics. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Karalus, K. E. and A. W. Eckert. 1974. The owls of North America. Doubleday, Garden City, NY.

Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The TOS handbook of Texas birds. Texas A&M. University Press, College Station.

Mazur, K. M. and P. C. James. 2000. Barred Owl (Strix varia). In The birds of North America, No. 508 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2005. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results/analysis 1966-2005. Version 6.2.2006. USGS Patuxent Wildl. Res. Cnt., Laurel, Maryland.

Shackelford, C. E., and F. C. Earley. 1996. Barred Owl nest in a natural hole in an earthen bank in eastern Texas. J. Raptor Res. 30: 41.

Telfair, R. C. II, ed.. 1999. Texas wildlife resources and land uses. University of Texas Press, Austin.

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