Animals in Winter: Barred Owls

Photo courtesy of Vermont Fish & Wildlife
Owls are everywhere in Vermont this winter! Snowy owls have migrated south from the arctic in search of prey, making this winter an irruption year. Snowy owls sightings have been reported statewide and across the northeast. But snowy owls aren’t the only raptors taking residence in Vermont this winter. The barred owl, Vermont’s most common, doesn’t migrate and populates the state’s forests all year long.

Barred owls are grayish-brown with white stripes on their wings, back, and vertically across their belly. Unlike other owls in Vermont, they have brown eyes. If you haven't seen a barred owl, there is a good chance that you’ve heard one. They have many vocalizations including hoots, grunts, squeaks, and gurgles. Their most recognizable call sounds like, “Who-cooks-for-you? Who-cooks-for-you-all?” Female and male owls communicate during mating season in late winter by calling and responding to each other or vocalizing in unison. Owl pairs mate for life and raise their young together. Barred owls are curious, gentle, and friendly animals that are known to approach humans when they imitate their calls in the forest.  

Photo courtesy of Vermont Fish & Wildlife
Barred owls eat mice, rabbits, and fish, reptiles and sometimes birds; their diets are flexible, and they will eat what’s available. They swallow their prey whole, digesting what they can, and regurgitating pellets of fur and bones later. They are largely nocturnal and hunt at night, but are sometimes seen during the day, especially in winter.

The habitats of barred owls vary, but they favor mature deciduous forests near water. They sometimes inhabit spruce-fir forests and mixed-conifer deciduous forests. The largest population of barred owls lives in Vermont’s Green Mountains. During the winter, they are often found nesting in lower canopy of trees, using the thicker vegetation to block the wind.

The population of barred owls in the state is relatively secure. Their lowest populations were reported during the 19th century when much of Vermont was deforested for farming. Today, they are most vulnerable to loss of habitat through the development of the forests where they live.  

If you find yourself trying to spot a snowy owl this winter, remember to keep your eyes (and ears) open for a barred owl, too!

Listen to owl audio:
For more information about barred owls visit Vermont Fish & Wildlife and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

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