Jeff Green | Feb 21, 2008
Feature Article - February 7, 2008
Back toHomeOutdoors in the LandO'Lakes - February 21, 2008 The Barred Owl – Haunting the Nights in the Land O’Lakes Outdoors in the Land O'Lakes by Steve Blight
One of the more common owls in the Land O’Lakes region is the Barred Owl. More often heard than seen, this bird is a brownish “earless” owl, about the size of a crow, but stockier. Its eerie, resonant call is often described as sounding like “who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all”, and is most frequently heard in mid to late winter. Both males and females call as they set up their breeding territory in dense forests, often near lakes, rivers or swamps. I have heard Barred Owls calling throughout the summer at our cottage on Bobs Lake, but they are more easily heard in the crisp, still night air of late February through early April. As the nights get warmer in spring, their calls are harder to pick out from the growing volume of night sounds from other creatures like spring peepers and tree frogs.
This year-round resident of many parts of North America prefers to live in large areas of older, relatively intact forest with lots of large diameter trees. They seem to do best in mature forests made up of a mix of conifers and hardwoods, with a scattering of large dead trees called “snags”. They frequently nest in holes in both living and dead trees, often made by another deep woods dweller, the Pileated Woodpecker. However, they seem happy to take over the abandoned tree nests of crows or hawks as well. Normally there are 2-3 eggs per pair, with laying taking place in early spring. Both parents are actively involved in rearing the young.
The number of Barred Owls seems to be slowly increasing in our area. Some researchers attribute this change to the fact that their preferred habitat is expanding as the second growth forests on many parts of the Canadian Shield mature. Others also suggest the gradual increase is because birds of prey are no longer considered “varmints” and shot on sight. Last summer, I saw a Barred Owl on four separate occasions – three times perching sleepily on hydro wires alongside a gravel road near our cottage, and once on a branch midway up a red oak tree on our bush property east of Sharbot Lake. Another memorable sighting of this owl for me was on the first Monday after the famous ice storm of 1998. I walked into our cottage to check out the damage, and the bird was surveying the scene from a perch about 15 feet off the ground on an ice covered branch drooping over our laneway. I thought at the time that it looked as discouraged as I felt about the enormous damage to the forest around our cottage and elsewhere. Fortunately, the damage to the forests did not seem to have a lasting impact on the local populations of this elegant bird.
The only other owls in our area that are likely to be confused with the Barred Owl are the Great Gray Owl and the Great Horned Owl. The Great Grey Owl is an uncommon winter visitor to our area, but its larger size, distinctive gray plumage and yellow eyes distinguish it from other “earless” owls. Two winters ago, this bird irrupted into the north eastern North America in incredible numbers – incredible for an owl, that is – and seemed to be turning up on every second fence post across our region. The Great Horned Owl is about one third bigger, and its prominent ear tufts clearly distinguish it from any of the earless owls.
When I hear the eerie but distinctive “who cooks for you-all” in the middle of the night, I know that a Barred Owl is making a living in a nearby woodlot. I consider myself lucky to be able to spend time in the Land O’Lakes – an area that makes room for such a noble creature.
Observations. Jane Badour reported having a number of redpolls among the more common winter customers at her feeder on Bobs Lake. She also reported having a lone Pine Grosbeak at her feeder back in the fall. Fred and Nancy Barrett also reported Redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks south of Maberly.