Barred Owl

Strix varia

Adult Barred Owls are year-round residents of Chert Hollow Farm. Most frequently we hear their familiar “Who cooks for you; who cooks for you all?”, but occasionally more than one adult will take part in complex “conversations” of cackling hoots. In both 2011 & 2012, we observed a considerable amount of Barred Owl activity in late summer/early fall, including lots of hunting activity in the vegetable growing areas. Observations were common at dusk or even in the middle of the day. Barred Owls hunt critters that are problematic for us such as rabbits and rodents, but they have never expressed interest in eating chickens, so we are extremely happy to have them around.

During a woods walk in late April 2012, a large bird flopping around on the forest floor caught our attention. We took a look at it with binoculars, quickly identified it as a Barred Owl, and started to speculate about why it hadn’t flown away; was it hurt? Taking a closer look, we realized the bird was still fluffy, a good indicator that it was young. The bird must have just fledged from the nest, but it hadn’t yet learned to take flight. Eric stayed in the woods to keep an eye on it, while I ran back to the house for the camera. The bird moved up slope a bit while I was gone. We slowly crept up towards the bird with the camera, and as we got closer it decided its best defense was to remain motionless. Thus, we were able to walk within about 10 feet of it, take a bunch of photos, then back off without it ever twitching. Meanwhile, the parents were hanging around, watching and vocalizing. The vocabulary used for communication with young is very different than the standard “Who cooks for you?” We almost certainly wouldn’t have recognized the sounds as owl sounds if we hadn’t found the young bird first (and if we hadn’t had previous experience of unique avian parental vocalizations in Broad-Winged Hawks and domestic chickens).