The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 29, 2002


Barred Owl

An ardent owl flew from the blue above and lightly alighted beside his love.
Afrighted she cried, "Pray, what brings you here?" He eyed her brightly and sighed,
"I came to you with a blameless aim ­ to wit, to woo."
From an unknown poet.

Name: Barred Owl or Strix varia

When and where seen: Seen by Nancy Pierce, March 20, late afternoon in a pine tree beside the house off of Westford Street. "Where's your camera, Honey" she whispered to her husband, Rik.

Distinguishing characteristics: Looks like an owl! Big! Reaches 21 inches in length and has 42-inch wing span. A light gray-brown, stocky, round-headed bird with an orange-yellow bill and brown eyes. (All other owls in the east, except the Barn Owl, have yellow eyes.) The Barred Owl has brown bars across the chest and brown streaks lengthwise down the belly.

Voice: Definitely gives a hoot; usually two sets of four hoots each: hoohoo-hoohoo, hoohoo-hoohooaw. The closing aw sound is characteristic of the Barred Owl. For those who don't speak owl, the English translation is: "who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all." Those who do speak owl, especially at night, may get a response, and perhaps cause the owl to come closer. The Barred Owl also makes a variety of other barking, cackling, and gurgling sounds. Donald and Lillian Stokes characterize these calls as "ranging from maniacal laughter to the howls of monkeys."

Signs: You may hear the owl; you may hear scolding sounds from crows, jays, chickadees and other birds which have found the owl and you may see them mobbing it; or below a favorite roosting place, you may find pellets of compacted, regurgitated fur and bones ­ which could account for the otherwise inexplicable attraction between the Owl and the Pussycat.

Housing: Barred Owls nest in cavities. They are also known to use the old nests of Red-shouldered Hawks. A few owls, including Barred Owls, take readily to birdhouses.

Relatives: The Barred Owl is so closely related to the Spotted Owl that the two species interbreed in western areas where their ranges overlap. The Spotted Owl is already at risk in the west due to loss of habitat. The westward spread of the Barred Owl is contributing to the threat.

References: The Sibley Guide to Birds; The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior; Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies; Donald and Lillian Stokes, The Complete Birdhouse Book ­ for birdhouse specifications for five species of owls.

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. You can write the column or tell me what you saw and I will write it. The only requirements are that the species exists in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. It's the time of year for the Easter(n) Cottontail. Send a note to Kay Fairweather at 392 School St, Carlisle MA 01741 or to

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito