Beyond Your Backyard: the Barred Owl

Last night I was woken up by an owl hooting outside my window. Ok, let’s be real, I was actually woken up by my cat wiping her fluffy tail across my face (gross, I know). But after I awoke, I heard the hooting so it’s six in one, half dozen in another.

I have to tell you that barred owl song of “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” followed by loud cackling calls conjures up such vivid memories for me. It immediately transports me to camping in the woods, twilight walks at an Audubon sanctuary searching for owl pellets so we could find out what they’d been eating, and flashlight tag at dusk with a nature-provided symphony. There’s something inherently exciting about hearing an owl. I don’t know if that excitement comes from the sheer childhood thrill of knowing you’re out after dark or the mystery and stories that we’ve heard so often about owls.

I live in town so I got to wondering, as I listened to the riotous mating calls, what exactly were these owls doing here and what made them decide to be town owls instead of country owls? Of course, I’m an ecologist so I have some ideas.

One, there is no doubt as we’ve converted forests, meadows, and prairies to other uses that there is limited space for the owls and their habitat. It’s quite probable that they didn’t in fact choose to be in town, but rather are here out of necessity. Despite such a sad thought, I found myself feeling super happy and excited that I was awake to listen to the date night happening in the trees around me. I started wondering where they may be perched and if they would nest in any of our older trees, which got me wondering do they even like a particular kind of tree?

You’re in luck and I did a little owl research and found out that barred owls (or bard owls as I thought they were called when I was little because I thought they were the storytellers of the forest) do in fact like large, mature trees, but don’t necessarily have a preference for a particular kind of tree. They like mixed forests near water. So, it makes sense that they would venture into the city of New Ulm since much of the outskirts is a mix of floodplain forest along the Minnesota and Cottonwood rivers.

I also learned that barred owls eat many small rodents including rabbits, which makes me wonder what I can do to keep these beneficial friends around to help me deal with my rabbit problem and hopefully actually see some of my flowers bloom instead of their withered stalks chopped off and discarded in my yard. But I digress, rabbits aside, barred owls hunt, like most owls, from a perch—observing all that’s happening around them. But unlike some other owls, they may actually wade into water to spear fish or crayfish. Seriously, if you ever see an owl wading, I’m going to need a photo because that is now on my bucket list of ‘must see nature moments.’

They nest in natural cavities in mature trees, lay 1-5 eggs, and remain on the nest for generally 28-35 days. This means that if all the activity I heard last night works out, I get to start searching for owlets in about a month. I can just imagine how excited my neighbors are going to be when I place a ladder next to their mature trees so I can peer into the cavities. Don’t mind me, I’m on an owlet hunt.

All joking aside, if you happen to find yourself awakened in the middle of the night, I encourage you to enjoy the moment, keep your ears open, and be ready for the next exciting nature discovery!

Ready to learn more right now about barred owls? Check out these links:

#neature #owls