Barred Owl 

By Paul Duncan, Whistler Naturalist

Barred Owls are medium to large-sized raptors; they have mature wingspans of just over one metre, and an average mass of 0.6 kg for males and 0.8 kg for females. Both male and female birds have identical plumage. Their heads, necks and chests are buff-white with dark brown lateral barring, contrasting with brown vertical streaking on the lower breast. Their heads are puffy and domed-shaped, and they do not have ear-tufts. Barred Owl eyes are dark brown or black and their bills are greenish-yellow.

In North America, the Barred Owl, as four distinct subspecies, can be found from Mexico to Canada. Historically, they only ranged east of the Rocky Mountains in Canada, but today are found in western Canada too. According to Max Gotz, Whistler’s birding authority, several Barred Owls are resident in Whistler’s nature reserve.

Barred Owls are woodland dwellers and they inhabit mixed deciduous and coniferous forests, favouring valley bottoms and lake margins. These owls are opportunistic and, unfortunately, they may compete with their smaller, endangered cousins, the Spotted Owls. According to some authorities, Barred Owls are a potential threat to Spotted Owls. Interestingly, Barred Owls can mate with Spotted Owls, and their offspring are known as "Sparred Owls."

Barred Owls are monogamous and ordinarily pair for life. They prefer to nest in tree cavities, but will also nest in abandoned crow or hawk nests. Barred Owls will commonly return to the same nest each year.

Although the phrases "who cooks for you; who cooks for you all?" and "you cook today; I cook tomorrow" sound like dinnertime bargainings at my house, these communications are actually the territorial call of the Barred Owl. Vocalizations are extremely varied, and include cackles, wails, laughs and even humanlike screams. So keep in mind, that if while walking in the forest you are spooked by an unearthly sound, it is not likely a banshee, but a Barred Owl with, perhaps, a sense of humour.

For a live encounter with a Barred Owl, be sure to attend "Owls in the Classroom," an educational presentation by the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL) at Myrtle Phillip school on Jan. 27 (see below).

Upcoming Events :

January 27 — Live Owls and Hawks. Ted Williams from Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL) is bringing a Barred Owl along with several other raptors. This kid-friendly event is in the Toad Hall room at Myrtle Phillip community school from 11 a.m. until about 1 p.m. Children under 12 free. Adults: $2 (members), $6 (non-members). Contact Paul Duncan (932-3892) for details.

February 3 — Monthly Bird Walk . Meet at the base of Lorimer Road at 8 a.m. Contact Michael Thompson (932-5010) for more information.

Web site of the Week: For more information including pictures and vocalizations, check out http://owling.com/Barred1.htm. To learn more about O.W.L. (Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society), visit http://www.realm.ca/owl/.

Sightings and Memberships: NatureSpeak is prepared by the Whistler Naturalists. To become a member or report unusual sightings, contact Lee Edwards (905-6448; e-mail: leighe11@hotmail.com). If possible, document sightings with a photo. We’re always looking for columns to appear in this space — topics can include anything related to nature in Whistler. Contact Bob Brett (932-8900).

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