Sunday, January 31, 2016

BARRED OWLS

For the last couple of months, we have had a new resident in our neighborhood, and it's a barred owl.  Or maybe it's two barred owls.  Anyway, we hear an owl at night sometimes, and what it says is, "Who cooks for you?  Who cooks for you all?"  Of course, the answer to these questions is that Mom cooks for us.  My brothers, Tristan and Marius, have tried to tell the owl this by barking back when it hoots, but it still keeps asking the question.


Mom is worried about the fact that we have an owl living in our neighborhood because she is afraid an owl will decide that a little chihuahua might make a yummy meal.  So when we go out in the yard after dark, Mom goes outside with us and doesn't let us stay out very long.  Well, except for Tristan, who doesn't want to come in because he doesn't have the good sense to realize that he might get eaten by an owl.


When I did some in-depth research on barred owls, I learned that they eat small animals such as squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, rabbits, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish.  Nowhere did it say that owls eat chihuahuas, but Mom still thinks that if an owl can eat a rabbit, it can eat a chi.  Owls swallow their prey whole, except the bigger prey, which they have to rip into pieces first.

Fresh frog for supper!  Yum!

The scientific name for a barred owl is Strix varia.  Other names for it are hoot owl, eight hooter, rain owl, wood owl, and striped owl.  It has brown-and-white striped feathers, brown eyes, and a yellow beak.  All the other owls in this country have yellow eyes, so that is one way you can tell the barred owl apart from them.  Adult barred owls are 16-25 inches long, and they have a 38-49 inch wingspan.  They weigh between 1.1 and 2.3 pounds.


Owls generally roost during the day and hunt at night.  They are territorial and chase intruders away by hooting loudly.  They are most aggressive during nesting season.  Their preferred habitat is a large, mature forest, often near water.  Owl pairs probably mate for life. They like to nest in tree cavities.  But if there is not one available, they might use an abandoned stick platform nest made by a crow, hawk, or squirrel.  These owls do not migrate, so if a nest is suitable for them one year, they may use it again the next year.



Two to four eggs are laid in early spring, and the female broods them until they hatch four weeks later.  It takes four to five weeks for the young owls to fledge.  The main predators of the eggs and owlets are hawks, raccoons, weasels, cats, and great horned owls.  Barred owls live for about ten years in the wild and up to twenty-three years in captivity.

Two-week old chicks

Originally, barred owls were only found in eastern U.S. forests.  The Great Plains were a barrier to them due to the lack of suitable habitat.  But as the central part of North America became settled and was planted with trees, the owls were able to spread westward.  Once they reached the Pacific Northwest, they began to compete with the endangered spotted owl for habitat.  In some cases, barred owls and spotted owls have produced a hybrid species.


Recent studies have shown that suburban neighborhoods can also be an ideal habitat for barred owls.  In fact, scientists discovered that populations are increasing faster in suburban areas than in old growth forests.  One explanation for this may be the availability of rodents in urban areas.  Because the owls need larger, older trees for nesting, they will not move into newly developed neighborhoods.  The main danger to owls in suburban settings is from cars, but an increased number of offspring help make up for deaths from cars and disease.

©Ed Schneider, Lafayette, Louisiana, March 2009

So I guess that explains why we have barred owls living in our neighborhood now.  I just hope they came here to eat the chipmunks and squirrels, and not to eat any little dogs they might see!

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