Thursday, May 12, 2011

Barred Owls

The Barred Owl is a medium size owl that is brown to gray-brown in color with white streaking on the belly and chest. Of course, like most owls, they have a facial disc. The Barred Owl's facial disc is gray in color with a brown border. The Barred owl lives in wooded swamp areas or wooded areas near waterways. They are widespread over most of the U.S. and Canada.

Even though these owls are nocturnal, they can be seen during the daylight hours mostly in early afternoon. They hang out in dense foliage usually near the trunk of a tree or in tree cavities.

The Barred Owl is a highly vocal owl and will call in the daytime as well as at night. Often the call is a series of eight sounds followed by silence while the owl listens for a reply. Mates will call in tandem, but the male's voice is deeper and more mellow. Many other vocalizations are made which range from a short yelp or bark to a frenzied and raucous monkey-like squall. While Barred Owls will call year round, courtship begins in February with breeding occurring between March and August. Barred Owls will usually nest in cavities in trees but will on occasion use an abandoned hawk, crow, or squirrel nest.

After 2 to 4 eggs are laid, the male will bring food to the female while she is on the nest. The owlets will leave the nest before they can fly, usually in around 4 weeks. The young owls can be seen perched on limbs near the nest flexing their wings in preparation for when they will fledge. The parents will care for their young for at least 4 months.

Again, like most owls, the Barred Owl will hunt from a perch. They will locate their prey with their amazing hearing and/or eyesight, then dive to the ground onto their prey. Their main food source is mice and voles, but will also feed on frogs, fish, rats, squirrels, moles, snakes, lizards, and many insects. A few other facts about Barred Owls--their life span is about 10 years in the wild, their only natural enemy is the Great Horned Owl and pairs mate for life while maintaining the same territories and nesting site for many years.

Finding Barred Owls to photograph can be difficult. They are usually in dark shadows or dense foliage at dusk or dawn when light is very low. Barred Owls, like most owls, will also hunt during low light or dark conditions. This makes it challenging to use a high enough shutter speed to successfully capture an owl on its perch, much less in flight. If you locate an owl during the day and approach it, the owl will likely fly away from you, not making for a favorable image. If you are fortunate enough to observe an owl on its perch in daylight hours, be patient. Wait for the owl to fly on its own or dive for prey. If you're lucky, you might get a good angle for a flight shot.

Text by Skeeter & Marolyn Lasuzzo. Photography by Skeeter Lasuzzo

Ed. Note: For more information about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, you may visit the official Refuge website, and the Friends of Hagerman site,

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