One late February afternoon, after a light snowfall, I happened to look out the window and there perched in a tree was a Barred Owl! This large (16 to 20 inches in height) owl is brown on its head and back with white bars mottling its plumage. Its belly is pale with brown streaks. Barred owls have a round head (no ear tufts), dark eyes, and, if you get a close enough look through binoculars or a camera, you’ll see its yellow beak. They have a distinctive call that sounds something like, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" It’s not very hard to imitate the call once you’ve heard it a few times. While I was standing outside snapping images of the owl, my husband opened a window and started hooting at the owl! The bird merely looked in his direction probably wondering who the imposter was that was making such a racket.
I’ve assumed Barred Owls were common throughout the state, but, after reviewing the Birds of Massachusetts, was surprised to learn that Barred Owls are rarely seen on the Cape and Islands. The Barred Owl is one of the few owls which can be seen hunting both during the day and night, perching on a branch, patiently looking for a small mammal such as a mouse or rabbit to catch on the ground. This bird I was watching was very patient, I kept checking the tree every 20 minutes or so and nearly two hours later, he was still perched there and stayed until it was too dark for me to see!
For the distinctive call and other interesting facts about Barred Owls, go to the All About Birds website hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Birds of Massachusetts, Authored by Veit, R.R. and W.R. Petersen in 1993. This book is available for purchase through the Massachusetts Audubon Society and is an excellent reference about birds that are found in the Bay State.
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