South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Barred Owl

Strix varia

Length: 20 - 24 inches Wingspan: 60 inches Seasonality: All Seasons
ID Keys: No ear tufts, dark eyes, horizontal barring on chest, vertical stripes on the belly

Barred Owl - Strix variaThe Barred Owl is what is commonly referred to as the "Hoot Owl" in the southeastern United States, as its deep hoots are common sounds in the thick forests of the region.  While primarily nocturnal, they are sometimes actively hunting during daylight hours.  They are nearly as large as the Great Horned Owl, but are generally much less aggressive and unable to directly compete with them. In South Dakota, they are rare and local, with most sightings in the extreme southeastern part of the state.  

Habitat: Prefers dense woodlands with just a few scattered clearings.  Much of the time they are found in low-lying, swampy environments.  In the eastern United States, they are most often found in deciduous forests, but in the northern and western parts of their range, can also be found in coniferous forest.

Diet: Primarily feeds on small mammals such as mice and shrews, as well as larger mammals including rabbits, squirrels, and opossums.  They will also eat a variety of birds, lizards, snakes, frogs and toads, salamanders, and large insects.  Birds near aquatic environments will also consume fish and crustaceans.

Behavior: Often most active at dawn and dusk, but may hunt at any time of day or night.  Hunts by either searching from a high perch, or by flying low through the forest in search of prey.  Paired birds will often call to each other.

Nesting: Generally nests in the old nest of a hawk or squirrel, or in a broken off snag or other large tree hollow.

Breeding Map: Breeding Bird Survey map.  Breeding has occurred in South Dakota, with young fledged in Newton Hills State Park in Lincoln County.  The nest of a Barred Owl is in a large cavity in a tree, or sometimes in an old hawk or crow nest.  The female lays 2 or 3 eggs, and she does most of the incubating.  When the young hatch, the male typically does most of the hunting at first while the female stays with the young.  The young typically fledge after about 6 weeks.

Song: Barred Owl Song

Migration:  Generally a permanent resident throughout their range.

Similar Species: Spotted Owl (not found in South Dakota), Great Gray Owl

Conservation Status: Barred Owls are still common and widespread in much of their normal range, but they have declined locally where swamp habitat has been destroyed.  However, in recent decades they have expanded their range in western Canada and the Northwest U.S.  In these areas, they have begun to compete with the Spotted Owl, and have also hybridized with them.   Overall, populations are not threatened, and the IUCN lists the Barred Owl as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Barred Owl

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Barred Owl"

3) eNature.com: Barred Owl

Photo Information: April 22nd, 2008 - Newton Hills State Park, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Barred Owl photos.

 

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Barred Owl - range map
South Dakota Status: According to the SDOU's latest version of "Birds of South Dakota", Barred Owls are just rare visitors in the southeastern corner of the state, and accidental elsewhere.  However, the bird in the photo above was paired with another bird in the spring of 2008, and were observed in courtship behavior.