[CC-BY-SA-3.0-us (], via Wikimedia Commons [CC-BY-SA-3.0-us (], via Wikimedia Commons

Strix varia
Order: Strigiformes

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • A double door mew entrance is ideal for any bird of prey. This allows handlers to enter the enclosure without having the bird being able to escape.
  • Ample perching areas are a must. Having a perching area which is high and also in the corner gives the bird a sense of security and mimic that natural behavior of perching on a branch near a tree trunk. It is also important to have both sun and shade areas in the exhibit, as well as an area which is covered so the bird can remove itself from the elements if need be.
  • In cold weather areas where a bird might be housed outdoors for the duration of the winter, it is important to consider having a heat source. In addition it is important to wipe perching areas of snow on a daily basis.
  • At the Seneca Park Zoo our barred owls mew measures (8' wide x 6' long and is 8' tall). This allows the bird enough space to move around and fly short distances. It also allows enough room for keepers and handlers to enter the enclosure with the bird.

Diet Requirements

  • In the wild, voles are its main prey, followed by shrews and deer mice. Other potential prey includes rats, squirrels, young rabbits, bats, moles, opossums, mink, and weasels. Birds are taken occasionally, including woodpeckers, grouse, quail, jays, blackbirds, and pigeons. They also eat small fish, turtles, frogs, snakes, lizards, crayfish, scorpions, beetles, crickets, and grasshoppers.
  • In captivity, they are fed quail, chicks, ducklings, mice, and Dallas Crown (horsemeat).

Veterinary Concerns

Notes on Enrichment & Training

Programmatic Information

Tips on Presentation

Tips on Handling

  • At the Binghamton Zoo, their barred owls bait frequently, but they are generally easy to re-position.

Potential Messaging

Acquisition Information

Comments from the Rating System

  • Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park: Bait often, but if not injured, very easy to re-position.
  • Maryland Zoo in Baltimore: Excellent for large staff, patient when handled.
  • Philadelphia Zoo: Our score is high but based on only one individual
  • Seneca Park Zoo: Very good for educational messages, but can be difficult to train. Most seem to be rehabbed animals and are jumpy when handled. Could be worthwhile to look for a captive bred one.

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Barred owls live east of the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada southward to Florida and the Gulf Coast through Mexico to Honduras. Their preferred habitat is swamps and deep woodlands, although it hunts over adjacent open country.

Physical Description

The barred owl is a medium-sized grey-brown owl streaked with white horizontal barring on the chest and vertical barring on the belly. They are round-headed with a whitish-brown facial disk with dark brown trim. The eyes are brown. The beak is yellow and almost covered by feathers. They have a long tail. There is no difference in plumage between the males and the females, although the females are slightly larger. The feet are small and weak in comparison with the great horned owl.
Barred owls are 16 to 25 inches long with a wingspan of 38 to 50 inches. They weigh 1 to 2.3 pounds.

Life Cycle

Nests are made in abandoned hawk or crow nests, or in natural tree cavities. They will maintain two different nests: a feeding nest and a breeding nest. The feeding nest is generally an old nest to which they will carry their prey to consume at leisure. Pairs mate for life, and territories and nest sites are maintained for many years.
Females will lay 2 to 4 white eggs, which will be incubated 21 to 28 days. The female will do most of the incubating.
Life span is 23 years in captivity, and 10 years in the wild.


The main vocalization consists of eight hoots, with the last one dropping of in pitch. It sounds like, "who, cooks, for you? Who, cooks, for you allllll?"
Barred owls will sometimes hunt in the broad daylight, and is often active in the late afternoon.

Threats and Conservation Status

Great horned owls are the only natural enemy. Most deaths are likely to be related to man (shooting, roadkills, etc.) Barred owls have been successfully expanding its range in past decades, taking over areas the spotted owl once populated. In general, they are abundant in numbers, so have no special status.

Prejudices against birds of prey still persist among many who wrongly believe that they harm wildlife or present major threats to domestic animals. Biological studies have documented their ecological importance as major controls on rodent populations. Some birds of prey feed on snakes, insects or other potential pests. No species of raptor poses a significant threat to domestic animals.

Instruct guests to never litter, especially when they are in a car. Throwing trash out along the roads not only makes the roads less attractive, but can also attract animals to the sides of the road. Some of these animals might look appetizing to an owl, hawk, or other predator which are then more likely to be hit by passing vehicles.

Did you know…

  • Other common names for this species are swamp owls, striped owls, hoot owls, eight hooter, round-headed owls, Le Chat-huant du Nord (French for "the hooting cat of the north.")
  • Like other owl species, barred owl can turn their heads almost 270 degrees. This movement is an adaptation because owls' eyes cannot move in their sockets like other animals.
  • The first description of a barred owl was published in 1799 by amateur naturalist Benjamin Smith Barton.


Contributors and Citations

  • The Philadelphia Zoo
  • Notes from comments gathered from completed PARIS rating sheets