Barred Owl

by Luis Mayorca

Have you ever heard a loud scream-like sound near a forest? It might have been a barred owl. The barred owl is a large owl native to North America. The barred owl is known by many different names, the most common one is The Hoot Owl. Owls have maintained a role in cultures and societies since early ages. People have assigned images and significances to these animals through history.


522px-Hontoon_Dead_-_Barred_Owl.jpgThe barred greyish-brown chest distinguishes the Barred Owl (strix varia)from other owls. It also has a big pale head with several darker concentric lines.  The normal length is between 48-55cm and the wing spam between 31-38cm (König, 378). There are other similar owls. Ultimately its large size and horizontal bars on upper chest and streaked vertical bars on the lower breast differentiate the Barred Owl from the others.  Figure 1: Wikipedia

Another recognizable trait of the owl is its vocalization. As mentioned before, it could be mistaken for a scream. Some of the calls of the Barred Owl can be related to human words. People associate one of its calls to saying: “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” That is the most common call. But it also has other calls, and can get past through the canopies without being noticed (Web, Schneider). It also vocalizes a piercing scream-like sound, which is heard by people without knowing where it came from.

  • Who cooks for you call:
  • Piercing scream call:

This owl is a carnivore and it hunts its food usually at night. It has the advantage at night because of its sharp vision. Usually small mammals are its primary diet, but also birds and small vertebrates are part of its diet (König, 379).

Habitat & Distribution

Barred-Owl-cb1298583495.jpgThe Barred Owl normally habitats in mixed forest, rivers, valleys or swampy grounds. But the owl is not limited to those places. It also can be found in mountainous areas. They nest and get shelter in tree cavities. Due to the deforestation of natural areas, the owl’s shelters were reduced. The barred owl had to find a way to adapt or migrate to new places. Because this is such a sedentary animal it could not migrate but instead it mixed with another breed. It can live now in semi-open wooded areas, such as large parks with mature trees. Allowing the barred owl, that was originally of the east, to expand west through hybridizing with the spotted owl (Web, Cornell Lab of Ornithology).  Figure 2: National Geographic

Conservation & Status

There is no exact number of barred owls residing in their natural habitats. Studies of this species are not as broad as other animals. This is because the owls are most active through the night. This makes it extremely hard to conduct research on them. However, research and studies have shown that the destruction of forest is affecting them. They need mature trees with cavities to make their nest. Local experiments have suggested that providing boxes with holes in high trees help owls find a nest. But this works in some cases and is not believed that it will help in a larger scale (König, 379). cite law protecting birds of prey

Background – needs a lot more images

Because of the differences of owls from other birds, they have originated beliefs from ancient times. The Barred owl and owls in general, have a role in mythology and folkloric beliefs. In Europe, until recent times, “nailing up of a dead owl or its wings has been widely believed in Europe to help ward off such dangers as pestilence, lightning, and hail” (Hilton Jr. 33).

The Romans believed that the owl was associated with evil, witchcraft, pain, and death. There is a myth that an Owl foretold that Dido would commit suicide. That myth originated the idea related to death and witchcraft.

In Native American communities, women bathe their kids with owl feathers hoping that they would stay up at night. This is a belief originated from the fact that owls are most active during the night.

We can appreciate how different cultures give diverse significance to animals trying to build some identity. We can see that the barred owl has been part of human interaction since early times.

Owl associated with wisdom,

barred owl feathers used in native american culture?


The barred owl has had a role in human culture since early times. Like I said before, it plays part in mythology and cultural beliefs. It has images given to it by society. Other cultures have used them in their totems where the owl represents some traits or characteristics. Here are some of the symbolisms attributed to the owl: Intuition, capacity to see beyond deceit or masks, announces changes, wisdom, and announcer of death (most serious change in life). In recent days the owl is most associated with wisdom. It has been used for images of teachers for children, in educational videos.

Needs images of owl in Art and media –  contemporary and ancient)

Owl in Clash of the titans movie, etc


One way of interaction the Barred owl has had with people could be the totems used in tribes. These totems are assigned to people according with their traits. Whatever quality a person may have that resembles an animal, represents their totem. The owl is assigned to those who carry messages, and wise people.


Hilton Jr., B.(1991). “Mythical, mystical owls. South Carolina Wildlife” 38(6):32-39

`Konig, C (2008) “Owls of the World.” New Heave. Yale University Press.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology (2009) “All About Birds: Barred Owl” Available Online. (

National GHeographic. 2013. Barred Owl. Available online (