Barred owls are large nocturnal birds probably best known for their unique vocalizations that carry well over 0.8 km (0.50 mi). They are brown to gray overall with dark striping on the underside contrasted immediately above that with similarly-dark and tight barring about their throat and nape. Their head is fairly large and rounded with no ear tufts. The bill is pale straw-yellow (occasionally showing a mild greenish tint) while the cere is “horn”-colored. Their soulful eyes are blackish-brown in color. Like most birds of prey, females in this species are larger than the males.
Barred owls are found throughout most of the eastern United States, as well as much of southern Canada and in Mexico. They live in old deciduous, mixed forests and, occasionally, coniferous forests. Barred owls can also be found in deep moist forests, semi-open wooded areas, oak savanna or cabbage-palm areas, in riparian areas or swampy ground, agricultural fields, wetlands, open terrain and large parks with old trees.
Barred owls are generally solitary and spend time with their family only during the breeding season and raising the young. They are largely nocturnal but may also be active during the day. Barred owls often spend the daytime hidden away in the dense foliage of a tree, often at minimum 5 m (16 ft) above the ground, but sometimes also roost in branch close to a broad trunk or in a natural tree hollow. Recently fledged owls sometimes roost in tall grass, usually after falling from the nest tree. Barren owls are skilled and silent fliers and frequently use routine forest flyways with open understory and low branch densities. They are highly territorial regardless of the time of year. The territories are claimed by singing from different perches. The boundaries are almost always well-maintained by owls and are generally stable from year to year and even generation to generation. Barred owls are opportunistic predators and usually hunt from a perch. During hunting, they glide briefly from perch to perch until the prey is detected. They may also wade into the water to capture fish and may do an unusual amount of aquatic foraging via wading into shallows. Barred owls are powerful vocalists, with an array of calls that are considered “spectacular, loud and emphatic”. Their usual call is a series of eight accented hoots ok-ok-ok-ok-ok-buhooh or the “typical two-phase hoot” with a downward pitch at the end. A further call is the “ascending type” or the “legato” call, a series of variable notes ending in oo-aw or hoo-aah. Another call type is the “mumble”, a grumbling, slurred, and subtle err-ERR-err, also an up-and-down “twitter” call at a high pitch. When agitated, Barred owls will make a buzzy, rasping hiss of about 3 seconds every 10-30 seconds and click their beak together forcefully. Females and juveniles beg with high scratching skreeechch notes.
Barred owls are monogamous and pair for life. During courtship, males especially may engage in nodding, bowing with half-spread wings and may wobble and twist their head from side to side. Breeding usually occurs in late winter, February to March. Barred owls usually nest in the hollow trunk of a large tree or the broken-off snag from a large tree branch. Typically nest sites are in rather deep and dark wooded areas, often with a well-developed understory but somewhat sparse lower branches and may be fairly close to water. The average nest heights are between 6.8 and 13.4 m (22 and 44 ft) above the ground. The female lays 2 to 3 eggs and incubates them alone for about 28 days, while the male gathers food for her. The owlets hatch altricial; they are helpless, blind, and covered with a white down. They first start moving about the nest at around 3 weeks after hatching and may start to perform threat displays if scared. Adult-like feathers begin to appear at 6 weeks of age. When owlets start exploring around the nest tree they often fall to the ground; however, they can usually climb back up the tree with their feet and bill, constantly wing-flapping. Fledgling occurs at about 36-39 days but parents continue to feed their young for up to 6 months. Barred owls usually reach reproductive maturity when they are 2 years old.
The main threats to Barred owls include human development and habitat destruction. Other threats include the use of pesticides and industrial pollutants, collisions with road traffic, trapping, and hybridization with the Spotted owl.
According to the All About Birds resource the total breeding population size of the Barred owl is 3 million breeding birds. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are increasing.