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The Barred owl is a year-round resident of P.E.I. and one of our more common owls. With dark brown or black eyes, a length of 50 cm or so, and dark brown vertical bars down its breast, this is a distinctive forest owl.
Living in the forest, the barred owl has adapted in certain ways. The colour and pattern of their plumage acts as an excellent camouflage, giving the owl relief from harassment by other animals while it roosts during the day. The leading edge of their wings have adapted to diffuse the air rather than cut it. This makes their flapping virtually soundless as compared to a crow or other similarly sized bird. These traits make them dangerous and stealthy hunters.
The owls sensory adaptations are incredible as well. Their “ears” are of variable heights on their head, one being slightly higher than the other. This allows them to hear vertically as well as horizontally, giving them the ability to pinpoint where a sound is coming from with high accuracy. Their large eyes are build to absorb a lot of light, giving them excellent night vision.
It nests inside a tree cavity, and as a large owl, requires a sizeable mature tree to accomodate it. As it can’t create its own cavity, the Barred owl relies on a succession of different creatures to create, prepare, and enlarge a cavity till it can be used for nesting. Alternately, they will take advantage of a large tree which has lost a limb from rot or a windstorm. These breaks can create large cavities in the rotted wood which the owl can enlarge on their own. Occasionally, when no cavities are available, the barred owl will poach a stick nest from crows, hawks, or even ravens.
If you have this owl in your woods, it tells you that you have some nearby large trees, with a healthy compliment of woodpeckers of various sizes, from the downy to the flicker, as well as other animals like racoons, chickadees, flying squirrels, and even some hawks.
As a large raptor, the Barred owl lays its eggs quite early in april, as the young take some time to reach independence. Sometimes owl pellets, a compacted mass of hair and bones from their prey, can be found below this roosts and/or nest. These pellets are regurgitated by the owls after digestion of the meat and juices. They serve as great indicators of what the owls are eating locally, which can allow you to glean much information about prey populations like mice,shrews, fish, small birds, and even insects.
Barred owls generally begin staking their territory sometime in february. At this time of year, you’ll begin to hear the males song staking out territory and attracting a mate. As Barred owls mate for life, and are year-round residents, they will return or stay in the same territory year after year providing food sources, and nest sites are available. These owls have a distinctive song, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you All!?” is often the phrase which helps to establish the cadence of hoots. Hooting throughout the year in the right habitat, but especially during breeding season, often attracts a barred owl intent on defending their territory. Often the owl will hoot back with a response but not necessarily show itself.