Lost in thought while driving home one evening, a large, winged shape came swooping down, almost smacking right into my windshield. I pulled over to the side of the road in search of the creature's identity. From a towering cedar, I locked eyes with the extraordinary sight of the Barred Owl.
Barred Owls are medium-to-large-sized birds with stocky frames. They have no ear tufts, making their head appear very round. Unlike the bright, seemingly fluorescent stare of the Great Horned Owl, the Barred Owl's soulful brown eyes set it apart from most other owls. Sporting a brown and white coat, the Barred Owl can easily go unnoticed if under tree cover, blending in to its natural surroundings. The horizontal bar pattern on its back and upper chest contrasts that of the vertical striping found on its lower breast.
Large, mixed deciduous and coniferous forests near water are the ideal home for the Barred Owl. Widespread through North America, the Barred Owl ranges across Canada, the eastern United States and south to Mexico. Empty tree cavities provide adequate protection and breeding grounds for these non-migrating birds and their pending clutch. Monogamous at heart, the Barred Owl's breeding season begins in February, resulting in two to four eggs each year. This early breeding season allows the young owls to take full advantage of the plethora of prey that will be available to them come spring. Hunting near dawn and dusk, the Barred Owl perches high on tree limbs, swooping down on unsuspecting prey. This prey may include, but is not limited to, voles, mice, squirrels, bats or snakes. Predators such as raccoons can sometimes prey on the young eggs or nestlings, but the Great Horned Owl is one of few predators it has in adult life.
As Barred Owls have continued to move and inhabit more of the Northwest, they have become a threat to the population numbers of the Spotted Owl. When found in the same habitat, the Barred Owl, which is the more aggressive of the two, out-competes the Spotted Owl. In some cases, it has been found that these two species of owls will breed and have offspring known as Sparred Owls.
Although predominately nocturnal, the Barred Owl has been known to be heard during the day. Next time you are in the forest, be sure to listen for their distinct territorial call that sounds like "Who cooks for you" and "Who cooks for you all."
The Whistler Naturalists are a non-profit volunteer group dedicated to increasing local knowledge of the natural world in the Whistler area. For more information or to get involved please visit www.WhistlerNaturalists.ca.
Join us for one of our monthly bird walks held the first Saturday of each month. Next upcoming walk will be held on March 7th at 8 a.m. We meet at the foot of Lorimer Rd. by the river and railway crossing.
Call for volunteers — The Naturalists are looking for volunteers to help organize upcoming events and write NatureSpeak articles. For more information please contact Kristina at firstname.lastname@example.org.