|      The dark-eyed
barred owl has a gentle, soulful expression that is mirrored by
the bird's temperament - this is an unaggressive species. The barred
is the East's next-largest resident owl, second only to the great
horned owl, but there is a vast difference between the two species.
The formidable great horned owl, at three pounds, is a top predator,
capable of taking prey up to the size of skunks or house cats, even
porcupines if it is hungry enough. Great horned owls are fierce
defenders of their young, and are one of the very few birds of prey
on record as having killed people. The barred owl, by contrast,
is dangerous only to small mammals, frogs, snakes and fish. This
is due partly to its lack of aggression, and partly to the fact
that under all those soft feathers there isn't much bird - male
barreds average only 13 ounces, females 17. The species' name comes
from the crosswise barring on the bird's breast feathers; the pantaloonlike
belly feathers are streaked lengthwise. The barred owl is gray-brown
overall, quite different from the tawny-brown of the great horned
owl. Barreds lack the ear tufts of the great horned owl, and they
utterly lack their larger relative's yellow-eyed demonic glare.
The soft brown eyes of the barred owl are surrounded by dark concentric
rings that give it a bemused look, as if it found this wicked world
a bit too much.
This species is resident in wet woodlands in the
eastern half of the U.S. (although the barred owl is expanding its
range westward, and is now encroaching on the territory of its close
relative the spotted owl). The barred is a cavity-nester, and its
home range typically contains stands of mature trees that provide
roosting cover during the day as well as holes for nesting.
The barred owl, like the great horned, is sometimes
called "hoot owl." Both species do hoot, but the barred
owl is more emphatic in its vocalizations, and its voice has a higher
pitch. Its best-known call is a series of eight accented hoots,
in groups of four : hoohoo-hoohoo, hoohoo- hoohooaw.
That descending note at the end is characteristic of the barred
owl. This talkative species can also bay like a hound, scream, shriek
and whistle. To the superstitious the barred owl must sound like
one of the unrestful dead abroad on some sinister mission, and surely
some ghost stories trace their origins to the unearthly noises made
by this bird.
Their uncannily silent flight may also be responsible
for stories of restless spirits. Like other owls, barred owls have
velvety-soft feathers. This softness, combined with a fringed leading
edge on the flight feathers, dampens sound and enables the owl to
fly virtually noiselessly. Another aid to silent flight is the fact
that the barred owl's wingspan averages 43 inches - a big wingspread
for such a light bird. Broad wingspan plus low weight equals buoyant
flight, and the barred can move through the air like a moth. Prey
is captured partially by being seen, and partially by being heard.
Hearing is extraordinarily acute, as is eyesight - even in daylight.
The gentle barred owl sometimes falls victim to
the great horned owl - there is no sense of family among the various
owl species. Many barreds meet their death on highways when they
swoop down after a mouse, only to collide with a car instead. And,
sadly, they are sometimes shot, since they are inquisitive birds
that will follow people to see what they're up to.