Animal Fact Sheets

Range Map

Stable in the Wild


(Strix varia)

Classification and Range

Barred owls, along with 12 other species belong to the genus Strix, which is part of the family Strigidae or "typical" owls.* This genus of owls characteristically has large, rounded heads and well-developed facial discs. Barred owls range throughout the United States east of the Rocky mountains, southern and western Canada, and the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and northern California.


Barred owls typically inhabit both broadleaf and coniferous forests and woodlands, especially near water. They prefer woodlands which include trees of a large enough diameter that can be used as nest sites.

Physical Characteristics

Barred owls are large owls with round heads and dark eyes. They are named for the plumage pattern on their chests which is cream-colored with brown barring. The remainder of the body is brownish-gray with pale speckling. This body coloring helps barred owls roost in thick foliage without being detected. They are 16-24 inches (40-60 cm) in length with a wingspan of 38-45 inches (95-113 cm). Females weigh up to 2 pounds (905 gr), and are larger than males.

Life Span

A banded barred owl lived in the wild for 14 years. Woodland Park Zoo's barred owl is currently over 14 years old.


In the wild: Barred owls are generalists, feeding on a wide variety of prey including rats, mice, voles, chipmunks, lizards, frogs, fish, birds and large insects.
At the zoo: Mice, small rats and occasionally quail.


Barred owls nest in tree cavities or the abandoned nests of hawks, crows or squirrels. The same nest will often be used for several years. They lay two to four white eggs. Incubation is done mostly by the female for approximately 28 days. The young food begging call sounds like steam escaping from a tea kettle. After six to eight weeks, young are able to fly well enough to begin hunting on their own but may occasionally receive food from parents for up to four months.

Life Cycle

The usual call of a barred owl is a series of nine hoots sounding like - who cooks for you? who cooks for you-all!" A barred owl hunts and calls mostly at night, and can be heard best in early spring when breeding begins. They also are occasionally active during the day.

Invasion From All Sides

Barred owls are flexible in their habitat requirements, and have expanded their range in recent years. They are now a regularly seen species in the states of Washington and Oregon, where 30 years ago they were not found.

Unlike northern spotted owls which require large stands of old-growth timber to nest, barred owls readily nest in second-growth forests. Aggressive cutting of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest reduced these stands into small forest units not suitable for spotted owl nesting. As a result, the northern spotted owl is tied to the last remaining large stands of ancient forest. Logged areas now allow larger, more aggressive barred owls the opportunity to invade the edges of the northern spotted owls'shrinking old-growth territory, further reducing suitable nesting sites for northern spotted owls.

Location at the Zoo

A barred owl can be seen in the zoo's award-winning Northern Trail exhibit.

Conservation Connection

Many raptor species are in danger. Human-caused changes in land use are escalating, and this affects the habitats and migratory corridors required by some raptors for survival. Vast forests are removed for timber and other paper products, and industrial emissions pollute water and air resources. Critical shoreline and riparian zone habitats are rapidly converted by expanding human communities and agricultural needs. Shooting and trapping are also lowering raptor numbers. It's only a matter of time until more raptor species may face extinction, unless we take measures to protect their habitats.

Humans need raptors. Here are only a few of the benefits raptors provide:

  • Raptors help keep animal populations in balance.
  • Raptors consume many animals that humans consider as pests, including mice, rats and destructive species of insects. This helps to control disease and damage to crops.
  • As top predators of their food chain, raptors are an indicator species of the overall health of the ecosystem in which they live.
  • Of equal importance, witnessing wild raptors enriches each of our lives. Imagine what life would be like if we could no longer hear the haunting evening call of the owl.


How You Can Help!

Efforts to save threatened and endangered raptors require cooperation and support at international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Eliminate or reduce pesticide use. Let your elected representatives know your views about the conservation of migratory birds and their wild habitats.

Contact Woodland Park Zoo at to find out how you can support conservation efforts at the zoo. Discover more about raptors by contacting the Peregrine Fund at their Web site Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.

Sources and Suggested Reading

Toops, Connie. 1990. The Enchanting Owl. Voyager Press, Inc., Stillwater, MN. 127 p.

For Kids!

Jarvis, Kila and Denver W. Holt. 1996. Owls: Whoo Are They? Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, MT. 59 p.

Zoobooks. 1992. Owls. Wildlife Education, Ltd., San Diego, CA. 17 p.


Barred Owl Taxonomy

Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
Genus: Strix
Species: S. varia

Barred Owl Fascinating Facts

  • When threatened, barred owls raise one wing and hold the other close to their body. This may give the owl the appearance of a mammal rather than a bird!
  • The spine-chilling shrieks, silent flight and nocturnal habits of some owls have led many people to believe that owls are magical or evil omens. Some people even believe that owls are able to predict births and deaths. These and other superstitions have led some humans to kill owls out of fear!
  • In some cultures, owls are considered wise and are worshipped. In Greek mythology, Athena, goddess of wisdom, has an owl as her symbol!
  • Unlike other raptors that carry prey in their talons and rip it apart before eating, owls often carry their prey with their bill and often swallow their prey whole. Bones, fur and other indigestible items are regurgitated as pellets