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Barred Owl
Strix varia

Barred Owls are highly vocal and their hooting call is often phrased as Who cooks for you, Who cooks for you all? They are more active during the day than other Tennessee owls and will even call occassionally in the daytime. Barred Owls are widespread in the eastern half of the United States and across central Canada to northern California. Like the Great Horned Owl, Barred Owls are sometimes referred to as "hoot owls."

Description: This stocky, round-headed, medium-sized gray-brown owl has no ear tufts and dark eyes. The underparts are whitish with dark streaks, and the bill is dull yellow. The sexes are alike in plumage, but the female is larger, even though the male has the lower-pitched voice.
Length: 17.5" (height)
Wingspan: 40"
Weight: 1.3 lbs.

Voice: The song is usually characterized as 8 or 9 clear hoots: who cooks for you, who cooks for you (all).

Similar Species:

Habitat: Forested areas especially large blocks of bottomland forest and wooded swamps, but also in mature upland forest. Also, occurs in suburban neighborhoods where tracts of forest remain.

Diet: Small mammals, rabbits, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates.

Nesting and reproduction: Barred Owls nest later than Great Horned Owls. Peak egg laying is in early March.

Clutch Size: 2 to 3 eggs, occasionally 1 to 5.

Incubation: The female does most of the 28 to 33 days of incubation.

Fledging: Both adults feed the young. They leave the nest at 4 to 5 weeks old but do not fly well until about 6 weeks. They remain with the parents for up to 3 more months.

Nest: Barred Owls prefer to nest in cavities in deciduous trees but occasionally will use open nests made by hawks, crows, or squirrels. They will also use nest boxes where cavities are limited. Nest heights range from 20 to 50 feet above the ground.

Status in Tennessee: Barred Owls are fairly common residents in Middle and West Tennessee, and less common in East Tennessee. Their population is stable or increasing, but local declines have occurred in regions where large tracts of forest have been converted to pine plantations, or bottomland forest converted to agricultural production.

Dynamic map of Barred Owl eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • This is the only owl in Tennessee with dark eyes.
  • The Barred Owl is able to hybridize with the endangered Northern Spotted Owl in the western United State. Recently the more aggressive Barred Owl has expanded westward into the range of the Northern Spotted Owl, further threatening that species.
  • Great Horned Owls are predators of Barred Owls. They often share the same habitat, but Barred Owls will avoid those areas occupied by a Great Horned Owl.
  • The oldest known Barred Owl in the wild was 18 years 3 months old.

Best places to see in Tennessee: Owls are never easy to see, but Barred Owls are easier than most because they can be active during the day. They can be found in appropriate woodland habitat statewide, and the Warner Parks and Radnor Lake State Park provide excellent opportunities for seeing Barred Owls in Middle Tennessee.

For more information:

The Owl Pages


Mazur, K. M., and P. C. James. 2000. Barred Owl (Strix varia). The Birds of North America, No. 508 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.