The hoot owl (Strix varia), the more common name for the barred owl, is one of the largest species of owl, and it is native to North America. It has quite a quirky looking face, with some considering it to have an evil presence, but most bird lovers think it’s cute. The prey of the barred owl certainly doesn’t think it is cute, though. And those animals are what we’re looking at today.
Barred owls, commonly referred to as Hoot Owls are opportunistic predators, meaning their diets are very varied. They mainly kill small mammals and rabbits but will also take birds and even insects if there is nothing else in the environment.
Barred owls are generalists; they don’t have a specialised or strict diet like many other predatory birds. There are some myths about what barred owls eat, though; more on these myths below.
Barred owls eat a lot of small mammals, and these make up most of their diet. However, they will also eat reptiles, amphibians and birds. They can even hunt and kill grouse. They aren’t too picky about their meals; if they can easily catch and kill something, it is on the menu for a barred owl.
Barred Owl eating a vole during the winter
Barred owls find food by sitting on a perch overlooking their hunting grounds. They will scan around for prey and have brilliant hearing and eyesight for this. Once they locate their prey, they will swoop down and catch the prey in their talons.
Barred owls tend to feed during dawn and dusk. They certainly hunt during the night and occasionally during the day, but they are most active at dusk and dawn.
Barred Owl in flight, looking for prey
Barred owls have an extremely varied diet with small mammals (up to the size of a rabbit), birds, amphibians, reptiles and even fish on the menu all year round. These owls will eat anything they can find in the winter, even resorting to eating insects if possible.
Baby barred owls eat whatever the parents bring back to the nest. The parents may start the babies on insects and smaller mammals like mice, for example.
The babies are with the adults for around four months, though, longer than almost any other owl. So, as the babies grow up, the parents will start to bring larger prey back to the nest.
Barred Owl feeding owlet
If you want to attract barred owls in for a closer look, the best thing to do is set up an environment for them that they can hunt in, rather than trying to feed the owl anything.
Leave your grass to grow to attract mice, voles and other small rodents, or try and find common hunting grounds for barred owls.
Leaving food out to attract owls isn’t a good idea because owls can very quickly get habituated to these free offerings and may stop hunting for themselves. This can pose a risk to the owl if you stop leaving food out; they could starve. So, instead of leaving food out, try and attract their natural food into an area.
Hoot Owl perched in a tree, eating a crayfish
Barred owls don’t really need to drink much fluid; the prey they eat tends to have all of the fluid they need to live. However, you may very occasionally see a barred owl drinking water. This is actually a rarer sight than seeing them hunting, though.
Barred owls won’t go to a bird feeder to feed on the seeds and nuts in the feeder. There is a very small chance a barred owl could hunt the birds that are using the feeder, though.
Barred owls are not shy around humans, so they have no issue visiting your garden and taking some feeding birds from your feeder.
Many birds will throw seeds all over the floor at feeders, and this can attract small rodents. Barred owls love small rodents, so this could attract them as well.
Barred Owls are commonly known as Hoot Owls due to their distinctive call
There is evidence of barred owls attacking domestic cats and eating them. It is very rare, but barred owls can eat cats.
If you have barred owls in your area, you might want to keep kitty in the house at night.
Barred owls will happily eat squirrels all day long. Squirrels are one of the barred owls main sources of food.
While we can’t find any evidence of barred owls killing chickens, we can say that they are certainly up to the task. Barred owls could easily kill a chicken. However, unlike other predators, they will usually only kill one, not the entire flock like a fox, for example.
Barred Owl waiting patiently to pounce on a small red squirrel
Barred owls could kill and eat a small dog or a puppy. However, we can’t find any reports of barred owls taking a dog. It may have happened, but it seems that great horned owls are more likely to do this. And even then, it is extremely rare.
Barred owls could snack on rabbits all day long. Rabbits are one of the barred owls biggest sources of energy. If you have rabbits close to your property, you may even catch a glimpse of a barred owl hunting them.
Barred Owl eating prey high up on a branch
Barred owls do eat other birds, and they can hunt and kill birds up to about the size of a grouse. They also hunt doves and woodpeckers, and many other species of bird.
Barred owls will eat snakes and even have some favourite species of snake that they enjoy. Barred owls enjoy rat snakes, ribbon snakes and common garter snakes.
Many barred owls have been observed hunting and killing fish. Some barred owls even wade into shallow water to stalk fish. They can even hunt and kill catfish and will take crayfish and crabs as well.
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