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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Barred Owl

Strix varia ORDER: STRIGIFORMES FAMILY: STRIGIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Barred Owl’s hooting call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” is a classic sound of old forests and treed swamps. But this attractive owl, with soulful brown eyes and brown-and-white-striped plumage, can also pass completely unnoticed as it flies noiselessly through the dense canopy or snoozes on a tree limb. Originally a bird of the east, during the twentieth century it spread through the Pacific Northwest and southward into California.

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Keys to identification Help

Owls
Owls
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Barred Owls are large, stocky owls with rounded heads, no ear tufts, and medium length, rounded tails.

  • Color Pattern

    Barred Owls are mottled brown and white overall, with dark brown, almost black, eyes. The underparts are mostly marked with vertical brown bars on a white background, while the upper breast is crossed with horizontal brown bars. The wings and tail are barred brown and white.

  • Behavior

    Barred Owls roost quietly in forest trees during the day, though they can occasionally be heard calling in daylight hours. At night they hunt small animals, especially rodents, and give an instantly recognizable “Who cooks for you?” call.

  • Habitat

    Barred Owls live in large, mature forests made up of both deciduous trees and evergreens, often near water. They nest in tree cavities. In the Northwest, Barred Owls have moved into old-growth coniferous forest, where they compete with the threatened Spotted Owl.

Range Map Help

Barred Owl Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Barred Owl

    Adult
    • Large, round-headed owl
    • No ear tufts
    • Large black eyes
    • Brown streaks on belly, brown and white mottling above
    • © Ed Schneider, Lafayette, Louisiana, March 2009
  • Adult

    Barred Owl

    Adult
    • Large owl with rounded head and no ear tufts
    • Large black eyes on gray facial disc
    • Brown streaks on white belly
    • Brown and white mottled wings/back
    • © Grant Hickey, Ontario, Canada, November 2010
  • Adult

    Barred Owl

    Adult
    • Rounded head with no ear tufts
    • Black eyes contrast with pale gray facial disc
    • Brown and white mottled wings/back
    • Streaked belly
    • © Grant Hickey, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, March 2011
  • Adult

    Barred Owl

    Adult
    • Rounded head with no ear tufts
    • Large black eyes
    • Small yellow bill
    • Brown and white mottled back/wings
    • © Greg Page, Eagle Creek, Texas, February 2009
  • Adult

    Barred Owl

    Adult
    • Large owl with rounded head
    • Pale belly with brown streaks
    • Large black eyes
    • Pale gray facial disc
    • © JMK Birder, Tolland , Connecticut, November 2009
  • Juvenile

    Barred Owl

    Juvenile
    • Rounded head
    • Large dark eyes
    • Mostly covered in down, but still mottled brown and white
    • © Janice Lorentz, Tryon Creek, Oregon, May 2011
  • Juvenile

    Barred Owl

    Juvenile
    • Large black eyes contrast with gray facial disc
    • Rounded head
    • Brown streaks on pale belly
    • Small yellow bill
    • © Syd Phillips, Nonaville, Tennessee, June 2010
  • Juvenile

    Barred Owl

    Juvenile
    • Large black eyes
    • Small yellow bill
    • Stocky overall, with rounded head
    • Younger juveniles mostly covered in whitish down
    • © Marcus Sharpe, Mead Garden, Winter Park, Florida, April 2009

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Spotted Owl

    Adult
    • Very similar to Barred Owl
    • Slightly smaller, but similar in shape
    • Dark mottled/spotted underparts instead of vertical streaks
    • Darker head and facial disc
    • © Larry Meade, Portal, Arizona, July 2006
  • Adult

    Spotted Owl

    Adult
    • Very similar, but slightly smaller than Barred Owl
    • Densely mottled/spotted underparts
    • Darker face and chest
    • © Kameron Perensovich, California, August 2010
  • Adult

    Great Horned Owl

    Adult
    • Larger than Barred Owl with obvious ear tufts
    • Glowing yellow eyes on brown facial disc
    • Dense horizontal barring on underparts
    • Gray and black camouflage pattern on wings/back
    • © Anne Elliot, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, September 2009

Similar Species

The rare Spotted Owl of the West Coast and Southwest is very similar, but has brown underparts marked by white spots, lacking the brown vertical barring of Barred Owls. Great Horned Owls have yellow eyes and prominent ear tufts instead of the Barred Owl’s rounded head. Barn Owls are much paler than Barred Owls, with a heart-shaped facial disk and longer legs; they occur in more open country more often than forests. Great Gray Owls of northern North America are considerably larger and grayer, with yellow eyes. They are often active during the daytime.

Backyard Tips

Barred Owls often take up residence in nest boxes in mature forests. Our NestWatch project has construction plans to build nest boxes appropriate for many species, including one sized for Barred Owls.

Find This Bird

Barred Owls are easiest to find when they are active at night—they’re a lot easier to hear than to see. Visit forests near water (big bottomland forest along a river is prime Barred Owl habitat) and listen carefully, paying attention for the species’ barking “Who cooks for you?” call. At great distance, this can sound like a large dog. Try imitating the call with your own voice and then wait quietly. If you’re lucky, a territorial Barred Owl will fly in to investigate you. During the daytime, a quiet walk through mature forest might reveal a roosting Barred Owl if you are very lucky.