With its round head and lack of ear tufts, the Barred Owl (Stix varia) has a distinctive brown-and-white striped plumage and is native to the eastern regions of North America. Our guide to juvenile barred owls explores the early development stages of these prolific predators.
Barred owls are covered in white down when they hatch, which is replaced with longer feathers by 2 to 3 weeks. Juvenile barred owls gradually develop the same pale buff-brown and white coloration of adults, but with less distinct markings.
By the time they leave the nest, at around 4 to 5 weeks of age, juvenile barred owls are not yet able to fly. Shortly afterwards, they begin their molt into adult plumage, and steadily master the art of flight over the course of the next month.
Adult plumage is complete by between 5 and 6 months, by which time juveniles are indistinguishable from mature birds.
If you’re keen to learn more about the appearance, feeding, and hunting habits of young barred owls, then please read on.
Juvenile Barred Owl perched on a branch, Texas
When baby barred owls first hatch, they are covered in a white down, which is replaced by a second set of downy buff-colored white-tipped plumage between two and three weeks later.
Adult feathers begin to grow through from around six weeks onwards, at which time their barred markings gradually become more defined.
Barred Owl Chick (Owlet)
Juvenile Barred Owl
Newly hatched barred owls are initially white, but this downy covering is soon replaced with a buff-brown second down, tipped with white.
By the time they reach 6 weeks of age, adult feathers are developing, giving juvenile birds the same distinctive light brown and white striped plumage seen in adult barred owls.
By around 6 months, their markings have become more defined rather than mottled.
On hatching, baby barred owls weigh around 46 g (1.6 oz), and growth is rapid over the coming weeks, with young owlets gaining around 15 g (0.5 oz) per day during the 30 days they spend in the nest before fledging.
By the time young Barred Owls leave the nest, they are between 50 and 75 percent of their full adult size and weight.
Barred Owl fledgling perched on a log
Barred Owl chicks are brought food to the nest initially by the male parent, and the prey is torn up by the female and fed to the young.
By between two and three weeks of age, prey is brought to the nest by the adult birds, but the young owlets are increasingly able to feed themselves and move around the nest site.
Prey for juveniles is the same as for adult birds, mainly rodents (mice, rats and voles), shrews and moles, small birds, and occasionally lizards and skinks.
After fledging, juveniles continue to rely on prey deliveries by their parents for a few more weeks until they have become fully fledged hunters themselves.
Adult Barred Owl feeding young chick
Screeching is used as a method of communication by juvenile barred owls. The loud screeching hiss is frequently heard in young owlets begging for food from their parent birds.
Once they have left the nest, the piercing screech can frequently be heard in the proximity of the nest site. Juvenile barred owls continue to communicate their location to their parents or fellow fledglings using high-pitched contact calls.
Until they are around 5 to 6 months old, juvenile barred owls can clearly be told apart from adult birds, as despite having the same coloring as fully mature birds, their markings are more mottled and less refined.
From around 6 weeks, adult plumage begins to come through, and gradually the barred markings become clearer and more pronounced.
A pair of young Barred Owls
Barred owls leave the nest between four and five weeks of age, but remain closely supported by their parents for several more weeks. As juveniles fledge before they are able to fly, they continue to need to be brought food and receive support to survive and learn to hunt.
Young barred owls do not return to the nest cavity once they have left, but remain nearby, perching on branches around the nest site. If they fall to the ground, their sharp talons and beaks allow them to climb tree trunks to the safety of a branch, where they will be delivered food by their parents until they are able to hunt independently.
By around 10 weeks, short flights are possible, with longer, sustained periods of flight being mastered by around 12 weeks.
By the fall after hatching, parental delivery of prey to juvenile birds gradually ends, with young owls now capable of sustained flight and becoming more independent.
Around this time, their association with parent birds ceases, and young owls leave in search of new territories of their own. Breeding typically occurs for the first time in birds of around 2 years, although yearlings have been recorded successfully raising young.
Barred Owl adult perched with its young
With a flecked plumage of buff-brown and white feathers, there are several owl species that are similar in appearance to juvenile barred owls, which might make it initially hard to distinguish between them.
Juvenile spotted owls are similar in size to young barred owls, but are a darker shade of brown, dappled with white markings. Both species lack ear tufts, and one distinct feature is that the bill of juvenile barred owls is a brighter orange-yellow than the more muted yellow of a spotted owl.
Great horned owls are another species that may be confused with a juvenile barred owl from a distance. One telling factor is color, with great horned owls having a grayer plumage than the buff-brown markings of a barred owl.
Great horned owls, even before they are fully grown, are larger in size than barred owls and have prominent ear tufts.
After around six weeks, juvenile Barred Owls have a similar plumage to adults
As with the young of other owl species, immature barred owls are known as owlets.
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