"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for YOU-aaallllll?"
Some of you may be familiar with the entity that shrieks out this phrase in the middle of the night, often right outside your bedroom window, while others of you are probably scratching your heads. I can assure you of two things: 1) I didn't make it up, and 2) it is actually a remarkably apt attempt at putting the call of the barred owl, Strix varia, into words.
Barred owls are among my favorite birds, which is one of the reasons I’ve chosen to focus my second Notes From the River post on them. I hope you’ll enjoy reading along, and perhaps learning some things you didn’t know before. (And hey, if the text gets boring, you can always just admire the wonderful photographs, most of which are courtesy of St. Johns River Eco Tours’ own Doug Little, wildlife photographer extraordinaire.)
According to several online articles I googled, just to double check my facts, barred owls live in large, mature forests made up of both deciduous trees and evergreens, often near water. This is true, but I have them in my neighborhood, as well, and often in my own yard, and I do not live in a large, mature forest, or near water, other than my goldfish pond. There are some big laurel oaks on my block, and that seems to suit a small group of barred owls just fine, as they have been nesting here for years. I’m less than half a mile from Seminole Towne Center, off a pretty busy road, so you can see that the owls forgot to read what the books say on the matter of their habitat. (And by the way, a group of owls can be called a bazaar, a glaring, a parliament, a stooping, or a wisdom, in case you were wondering. I'll go with wisdom. Therefore, I have a wisdom of owls in my neighborhood.)
The rest of the statistics I found online seem to be more or less accurate. Barred owls are large, mostly brown and white striped birds, lacking the “ear” tufts of the even larger great horned owls, and the tiny screech owls. Instead of the golden eyes of Florida’s other owl species, a barred owl’s eyes are dark brown. The owls range from 17” to 24” in height, and have a wingspread of 50” to 60”. That large size, combined with their round heads and dark eyes, makes them very easy to identify. In addition, they are seen in daylight hours much more often than other owls, so the opportunity to spot them is greatly increased.
Like most of their kin, barred owls hunt largely at night, and dine on rodents and other small prey. They are also fond of fish, and I have seen the ones around my house fly across my pond and snatch up unwary goldfish swimming too near the surface. Here, a parent has just given a small fish to an owlet, on the left.
A fun to thing to do on a nighttime hike is to play a recording of a barred owl’s call. In moments, any owls residing in the area will come swooping in to check out the “newcomer,” and will often engage in a back and forth dialogue with your recorder. In addition to their normal call, they can produce some very startling cackles and hoots, sounding like something from an old Tarzan movie. This is not something I recommend doing very often. No need to harass the birds. But it is a technique that is often used on annual bird counts, to get a feel for the number of owls in a given area.
If you are very good at mimicking, you can skip the recording, and imitate the call yourself. I can do it fairly well, successfully pulling in a few owls while on camping trips and even here at the house, but I once knew a gal who sounded more like barred owls than they do!
Click here to listen to some of their calls, yourself.
Barred owls nest in tree cavities, or in abandoned red-shouldered hawk nests, and produce 2 to 3 white eggs, with an incubation time of 28 to 33 days. The incubation duties are the esponsibility of the female bird.
Originally a bird of the eastern states, during the 20th century, the range of the barred owl extended to the northwest part of the country, and has now spread a bit south into Oregon. This strikes me as an unusual pattern of distribution, but I haven’t found any explanation for it, so far.
If you are in the central Florida area, a cruise aboard the Naiad is not only a great way to spend an afternoon, it’s a very good way to spot owls and other birds and wildlife. Barred owls are seen along the shores very frequently, and often up close and personal enough to get some good photos. I highly recommend it!
Other Florida owl species include the eastern screech owl, the barn owl, the burrowing owl, and the great-horned owl. We’ll talk about some of those another day. In the meantime, please feel free to let me know if you have any questions about barred owls at all. I’ll do my best to answer them for you. And remember, look UP now and then. You never know what might be watching YOU from a perch overhead.
And that's all for this week, folks. Hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about one of central Florida's most interesting birds, and seeing some of Doug Little's beautiful photography. And if you're in the area this Saturday, 1/14, come join me for a 1:30 departure on the Naiad, for a Meet the Author Tour. Would love to see you! For more info on that, click HERE.