Great Horned Owl Barred Owl

Last Updated on April 22, 2023 by naime

As a wildlife biologist, I have always been fascinated by the great horned owl and barred owl – two species that are often compared due to their similar appearance and overlapping ranges. These majestic birds of prey are known for their distinctive calls, impressive hunting skills, and unique physical characteristics.

The great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is one of the most widespread owls in North America, with a range that spans from Alaska to South America. This large bird stands about 20 inches tall and has a wingspan of up to four feet. Its name comes from the prominent ear tufts on its head, which resemble horns or ears. In contrast, the barred owl (Strix varia) is slightly smaller than the great horned owl, standing at around 18 inches tall with a wingspan of up to three-and-a-half feet. It gets its name from the horizontal bars on its feathers that give it a striped appearance. Despite these differences in size and appearance, both species play an important role in maintaining healthy ecosystems across their range.

Physical Characteristics Of The Great Horned Owl

The great horned owl is a majestic creature with distinctive physical characteristics. Standing at an average height of 22 inches and weighing around 3-4 pounds, this bird boasts large, sharp talons that are capable of crushing prey. Its wingspan ranges from 3 to 5 feet, making it one of the largest owls in North America.

One of the most notable features of the great horned owl is its impressive ear tufts or "horns." These tufts are not actually horns but rather feathers that serve as visual communication tools for the owl’s social interactions. In addition to its ear tufts, the great horned owl has bright yellow eyes that enable it to see clearly in low-light conditions.

Another distinguishing characteristic of the great horned owl is its coloration. The upperparts of its body are mottled brown and gray, while its underparts are lighter in color. This cryptic coloration helps the bird blend into its surroundings and avoid detection by predators or prey alike.

Finally, the great horned owl possesses a powerful beak designed for tearing flesh and crushing bones. Its diet consists mainly of small mammals such as rabbits, squirrels, mice, and voles, but it also feeds on birds, reptiles, fish, and insects when opportunities arise. Overall, these unique physical traits make the great horned owl a formidable predator and an important part of our ecosystem.

Physical Characteristics Of The Barred Owl

The Barred Owl has a unique feather pattern, with alternating dark and light stripes, that helps it blend into the shadows of its forest habitat. Its coloration is usually a mottled gray-brown with darker bars on its wings and tail. Its eyes are large, round, and bright yellow, while its beak and talons are powerful tools for hunting and nesting. Its wingspan can range from 1.5-2 feet, and it can weigh up to three pounds, allowing it to fly swiftly and remain agile while hunting.

Feather Patterns

As you observe the Barred Owl, one of its striking physical characteristics is its feather patterns. The owl’s feathers are soft and fluffy, with a mix of white, gray, and brown shades that create a distinct barred pattern on its chest and belly. This pattern helps to camouflage the bird against tree bark or other natural backgrounds when it rests during daylight hours.

The top of the Barred Owl’s head features dark brown feathers with lighter flecks throughout them. These feathers have a more mottled appearance than those on the rest of the body but still contribute to the owl’s overall camouflaging ability. Additionally, around each eye is a ring of darker feathers which creates an almost mask-like appearance that enhances the bird’s discerning gaze.

Another interesting aspect of the Barred Owl’s feather patterns lies in how they differ from those of their close relative, Great Horned Owls. While both species share similar coloring for their bodies, Great Horned Owls feature longer ear tufts and lack any noticeable barring on their bellies. By looking at these differences in feather patterns between two closely related species, ornithologists can better understand how evolution has shaped these adaptations over time.

It is fascinating to examine not only what makes up an animal’s physical characteristics but also why they developed as such. Through studying intricate details like feather patterns in birds like the Barred Owl, we gain insight into how this remarkable creature has adapted to thrive within its environment.


Now that we have discussed the feather patterns of the Barred Owl, let’s examine another aspect of its physical characteristics: coloration. The Barred Owl has a mixture of white, gray, and brown feathers on its body, which helps it blend in with its environment during both day and night. However, there is more to this coloring than just camouflage.

Recent studies have shown that the coloration of an owl’s feathers also plays a role in mate selection. Female Barred Owls tend to prefer males with darker feathers as they are perceived to be healthier and stronger potential mates. This preference for darker colors may also play a role in territorial displays between male owls.

Additionally, the eyes of the Barred Owl are dark brown or black. This serves several purposes; first, it helps reduce glare when hunting at night by allowing more light into their pupils. Second, it makes their eyes less noticeable to prey animals who might otherwise spot them from afar.

Understanding the purpose behind these physical features can help us better appreciate the complexity of evolution and how natural selection shapes animal behavior and appearance over time. By studying not only what animals look like but why they developed those traits, we gain valuable insight into how creatures like the Barred Owl survive and thrive within their ecosystems.

Range And Habitat Of The Great Horned Owl

The great horned owl is one of the most widely distributed owls in North America, inhabiting a range that extends from Alaska and Canada down to Central America. Their habitat includes both rural and urban areas such as forests, deserts, swamps, agricultural fields, and parks.

See also  Great Horned Owl Lifespan

These adaptable birds have a preference for nesting in large trees with an open canopy structure that allows them to fly in and out easily without being obstructed by branches. They also tend to seek out nest sites near water sources like rivers or lakes where they can hunt for prey. Additionally, their nests are sometimes found on cliffs or man-made structures like barns or abandoned buildings.

While they are known for their loud hooting calls during breeding season, great horned owls are generally solitary birds who fiercely defend their territory year-round. The size of their home range varies depending on factors such as food availability but can be anywhere from 1-10 square miles.

Due to their wide distribution and varied habitats, great horned owls have adapted to thrive in many different environments. However, human development poses a threat to these magnificent birds through habitat loss and fragmentation. Conservation efforts must continue to ensure the survival of this iconic species.

Range And Habitat Of The Barred Owl

The Barred Owl has a wide range throughout North America, stretching from Canada to Mexico and can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, wetlands, open woodlands, and coniferous and deciduous forests. They are migratory birds and can also be found in canyons, rivers, lakes, and swamps. As a species they are adaptable and quite flexible in their habitats and ranges, making them successful in many environments.


As a wildlife biologist studying the range and habitat of the Barred Owl, it is important to understand their distribution across North America. These owls can be found from southern Canada down to Central America, occupying a wide variety of habitats including deciduous forests, swamps, and urban areas.

In terms of their northernmost range, Barred Owls have been observed in parts of Alaska where they are considered rare visitors. However, they primarily occupy the boreal forests throughout Canada as well as much of the eastern United States. Their southerly range extends into Mexico and Central America where they inhabit tropical rainforests.

While their preferred habitat is mature deciduous or mixed coniferous-deciduous forest with open understory for hunting opportunities, Barred Owls are highly adaptable and can also occupy suburban areas with large trees. This flexibility has allowed them to thrive even in fragmented landscapes caused by human development.

Overall, understanding the broad range of the Barred Owl is crucial for conservation efforts aimed at protecting this species and its unique ecological role within its respective ecosystems. As such, continued research on their distribution and habitat use will help inform management decisions moving forward.


As a wildlife biologist studying the Barred Owl, it is essential to have an in-depth understanding of their habitat. These owls occupy a wide variety of habitats across North America, ranging from deciduous forests to swamps and urban areas. While they prefer mature deciduous or mixed coniferous-deciduous forest with open understory for hunting opportunities, they are highly adaptable and can also thrive in suburban areas.

Barred Owls play an important ecological role within their respective ecosystems by serving as top predators that regulate populations of prey species such as rodents and small mammals. They rely on large trees for nesting sites and hunt primarily at night from perches located up high where they have a clear view of potential prey items.

In addition to natural habitats, Barred Owls have also adapted to human-altered landscapes. As land use changes continue to fragment forests and reduce available habitat, these owls have been observed occupying suburban areas with large trees, including city parks and residential neighborhoods.

Overall, understanding the preferred habitat of the Barred Owl is crucial for conservation efforts aimed at protecting this species. Continued research on their habitat use will help inform management decisions moving forward and ensure that we maintain healthy populations of these majestic birds across their range.

Hunting And Feeding Behaviors Of Both Species

As mentioned in the previous section, the Barred Owl has a vast range and inhabits various types of forests across North America. However, this species’ hunting behavior is quite different from its close relative, the Great Horned Owl.

The Great Horned Owl is known to be an aggressive predator that preys on a wide variety of animals, including mammals as large as skunks and rabbits. In contrast, the Barred Owl’s diet consists mainly of small rodents such as mice and voles. Both species hunt at night but prefer different habitats: The great horned owl prefers open areas like fields or grasslands while the barred owl likes dense forest.

Despite these differences, both owls are skilled hunters with sharp talons and excellent hearing that allows them to locate prey accurately. They also have unique feeding behaviors that help them digest their food efficiently. For example, they regurgitate pellets containing indigestible parts of their prey after eating.

In summary, while both the Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl are apex predators in their respective environments, they display significantly different hunting behaviors due to variations in their diets and preferred habitats.

  • Owls play an essential role in maintaining ecological balance by controlling rodent populations.
  • The size and weight of an owl’s talons depend on what it eats.
  • Contrary to popular belief, not all owl species hoot.
  • Like other birds of prey, owls do not have a sense of smell.
  • Some cultures see owls as symbols for wisdom and knowledge.

Ecological Importance Of Great Horned Owls And Barred Owls

Great horned owls and barred owls are two of the most well-known owl species in North America. Both these species play an essential role in their respective ecosystems, providing valuable ecological services that help maintain a balance between prey populations and predators.

Great horned owls, also known as "tiger owls," have a broad diet consisting of small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even other raptors. Their hunting prowess is unmatched among avian predators due to their excellent eyesight and silent flight capabilities. They can hunt at night or during the day, making them one of the most versatile hunters in nature. As apex predators, they control rodent populations while simultaneously regulating bird communities such as grouse and quail.

See also  Juvenile Great Horned Owl

Barred owls are another important predator in the forest ecosystem. These medium-sized owls prefer dense forests with open areas where they can perch on high branches for better visibility while hunting. Barred owls primarily feed on small mammals like rodents but will also eat fish and insects if necessary. Due to their adaptability to different habitats, they have become common urban dwellers too.

Both great horned and barred owls provide significant benefits to their environment by controlling pest populations naturally without human intervention. However, both species face challenges from habitat loss caused by deforestation or urbanization. It’s crucial we take steps to preserve natural habitats that support healthy ecosystems so that these remarkable birds continue playing their vital role in maintaining biodiversity.

In conclusion, Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls play crucial roles within our ecosystems through helping regulate prey population numbers amongst others things; however, there are many factors affecting their existence including habitat destruction which should be taken into consideration when discussing conservation efforts for these magnificent creatures!

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Great Horned Owls And Barred Owls Related?

Many people may wonder if the great horned owl and barred owl are related, given their similar appearances. As a wildlife biologist, I can assure you that these two species of owls are not closely related. While both belong to the Strigidae family, they diverged from each other millions of years ago in terms of evolution. The great horned owl is known for its distinctive ear tufts and large size, while the barred owl has horizontal stripes on its feathers and a rounder head shape. Despite their physical differences, these fascinating creatures share many similarities in behavior, habitat preferences, and diet.

How Do Great Horned Owls And Barred Owls Differ In Terms Of Behavior?

Great horned owls and barred owls differ in terms of behavior. While both are nocturnal predators, great horned owls tend to be more aggressive and territorial than their barred owl counterparts. Great horned owls will defend their territory fiercely, using their sharp talons and powerful beaks to attack any perceived threats. In contrast, barred owls are known for being more vocal and less confrontational. They often use a distinctive call that sounds like "who-cooks-for-you" to communicate with other members of their species or mark their territory. Additionally, while both types of owls hunt small mammals like rodents and rabbits, great horned owls have been known to take larger prey such as skunks or even domestic cats on occasion.

Do Great Horned Owls And Barred Owls Have Any Natural Predators?

Like a symphony of the wild, these majestic raptors rule over their domain with effortless grace. As wildlife biologists, we study the natural world in search of answers to questions about creatures like great horned owls and barred owls. While they are formidable predators themselves, both species have their own share of natural enemies that pose a threat to them. From coyotes to eagles, there is no shortage of potential foes for these magnificent birds of prey. Nonetheless, it is amazing how effectively they adapt and thrive in such harsh environments where survival is never guaranteed.

Can Great Horned Owls And Barred Owls Coexist In The Same Habitat?

Great horned owls and barred owls are both apex predators in their respective habitats. While they may compete for resources such as prey and nesting sites, these two species can coexist in the same habitat. In fact, studies have shown that great horned owls often prey on barred owls, leading to a decrease in barred owl populations in certain areas. Despite this predation, both species have adapted to share similar habitats and continue to thrive alongside each other. As with any predator-prey relationship, there will always be some level of competition, but overall these two owl species are able to live harmoniously together in the wild.

How Do Great Horned Owls And Barred Owls Communicate With Each Other?

When it comes to the communication between great horned owls and barred owls, there is still much we don’t know. While both species have a variety of vocalizations they use for intra-species communication, their interactions with each other are less understood. Some observations suggest that they may communicate through duetting, where one owl calls and the other responds in turn. Others believe that they might rely on body language or visual cues to avoid conflict or compete over resources. As wildlife biologists, our job is to continue studying these fascinating creatures so that we can better understand their behavior and how they interact with others in their environment – like two symphonies playing different tunes but somehow harmonizing in the same concert hall.


In conclusion, great horned owls and barred owls are not closely related despite their similar appearances. They do have some differences in behavior, with the great horned owl being more aggressive and dominant while the barred owl tends to be more social. Both species have few natural predators due to their impressive size and sharp talons.

Interestingly, a study conducted by the National Audubon Society found that there has been an increase in the number of barred owls moving into areas previously inhabited by great horned owls. This may be due to changes in habitat or climate patterns, but it raises questions about how these two species will continue to interact and compete for resources.

As wildlife biologists or ornithologists, it is important to continue studying these magnificent birds and understanding their behaviors and interactions with each other and their environment. By doing so, we can better protect them and ensure that they thrive in their habitats for generations to come.

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