People passionate about nature

Barred Owl

Above: Barred Owl by Christian Artuso

How do I recognize it? 

The grey-brown Barred Owl (Strix varia), measuring in at a generous 43-50 cm in length, is Manitoba’s only dark-eyed owl. The large eyes and yellow bill are surrounded by a well-defined facial disc, while a lack of ear-tufts reveal a distinctly round head. The upper breast has a ruff of barred plumage above streaked belly feathers that flow down to feathered feet. Upper parts are greyish-brown with pale mottling. Females are larger than males, with both sexes being otherwise alike in appearance. Plumage does not change seasonally.

Above: Barred Owls by Christian Artuso

Does it migrate?

The Barred Owl is essentially non-migratory, although dispersal may occur when forced by food shortages or deep snow.

Where does it live?

The Barred Owl breeds mainly in the southern Boreal and Parkland Transition where its range is strongly influenced by the presence of large trees with large cavities for nesting. The preference is for mature, deciduous forest, often near water, though mixed forest is sometimes used, as well as occasional use of riparian forest within the Prairie Potholes.

Above: Barred Owl by Christian Artuso

Where can I see it?

The Barred Owl is nocturnal and difficult to see due to its secretive nature, however, its loud, rhythmic call may betray its presence especially in early spring during territory establishment. This species is particularly vocal among owls, being capable of raucous hooting and caterwauling, which can thoroughly pierce the silence of the night. In Manitoba, the most likely area to encounter a Barred Owl is in tall aspen parkland and boreal forest east of Winnipeg from the US border north to Nopiming Provincial Park. This owl may also be found in heavily wooded parts of the Interlake, Riding Mountain National Park, Duck Mountain Provincial Park, and surrounding mature woodlands. Scattered observations have also been reported in the Winnipeg area, especially in gallery forest (tall woodlands along rivers), and forested “islands” such as Birds Hill Provincial Park. South-central and southwest Manitoba have sporadic reports while sightings further north, as far as Thompson, are much less common.

Above: Barred Owl by Christian Artuso

Conservation Status:

At present, the Barred Owl is not considered a species at risk and has recently achieved considerable range expansion: from eastern to western North America in a band across southern boreal forests. This species is a generalist predator; therefore, it is not prone to fluctuations in population. Deforestation and fragmentation of habitat is a growing threat that results in the loss of large trees for nesting cavities and invites predation by the larger Great Horned Owl.

Did you know?

Owls do not build their own nests and the Barred Owl normally nests within secondary cavities within large trees, however, the use of a stick nest (a former Northern Goshawk nest) was first documented in Manitoba in 2017 near Brandon.

Above: Barred Owls by Christian Artuso