Meet another backyard bird: The barred owl

By Janet Carroll | Nov 28, 2012
Courtesy of: Sylvia Kawabata The typical adult barred owl is 18- 22 inches tall with a wingspan of 3 1/2 to 4 feet.

Barred owls made the news recently: The owls, territorial about nesting spots, were attacking several people in Seattle-area parks.

I was very surprised to learn this, since barred owls live in my neighborhood and in many others in Mukilteo. I have never seen or heard of anyone here getting attacked by these birds.

The barred owls near me seem tame and don’t mind my watching them.

Although we think of owls as nocturnal, we see and/or hear the barred owls at all times of the day or night.

They have several calls – one sounds like they are saying, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”

The males have a deeper call than the females, and both have an abbreviated form of that call – “hoo, hoo, hoo, waaah.” Sometimes these owls have a raucous call that makes them sound more like monkeys than owls.

I have seen these owls perched in the trees all over my yard, but they especially like to perch in the area near my birdfeeders. The squirrels that feed there are rather enticing prey.

One time, my cat and I were watching a Douglas tree squirrel feeding inside its caged feeder. Suddenly, down swooped the barred owl and put its feet and talons on both sides of the cage. The squirrel darted out into the tree, leaving the owl holding an empty feeder.

I have seen the squirrels taunt the barred owls, moving close to their perching site on a tree branch, and then running above them, chattering noisily all the while.

Another time, I was watering the plants by my house. Some of the water was snaking down my driveway, and a barred owl swooped down to the water and tried to grab it with both feet.

I assume it thought the water was a snake. Snakes are prey items for these owls as well.

All my neighbors have seen the barred owls and enjoy them as much as I do, except when they perch in trees right beside their houses and hoot at 4:30 a.m.

Barred owls have recently expanded their range from the eastern United States to our area.

Their movement has come at a cost to spotted owls, a federally listed endangered species, that live in Northwest old growth forests.

Despite the efforts to save the spotted owl, their numbers continue to decline. One reason for that decline is that the more aggressive barred owls move into spotted owl habitat, forcing the spotted owls out.

Unfortunately, little remains of the specific habitat required by the spotted owl.

Barred owls and spotted owls are of the genus Strix and often the two species interbreed, further diluting the spotted owl genes.

This is a sad scenario for the spotted owl, and those who are desperately trying to save the species.

Much as I enjoy the barred owls, I too worry about the success of the spotted owl recovery.

Janet Carroll is a member of the Mukilteo Wildlife Habitat Project. After two years of getting landowners to certify their yards as wildlife habitat and conducting educational activities, Mukilteo has been certified as a National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat.

The group continues their commitment to wildlife by creating and enhancing wildlife habitat in Mukilteo and connecting residents with nature. For more information on the project, go to, contact the group at or 425-514-5979.

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