Staying Put: Barred Owls at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post Nov. 4-10, 2017

Some humans and birds at Lathrop depart for warmer climes for the winter.  But not our barred owls (Stix varia). They are staying put.

All winter along, you’ll be able to hear them in or near our forests, often at dusk or at night, calling “Who cooks for you?  Who cooks for you-all?”   Hear it at

Barred owls find their prey by staying put: they perch silently on a dead branch over land or water, then swoop  down to catch squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, rabbits, birds (up to the size of a grouse), amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates.  Perched over water, they swoop down on fish.  They eat their prey head first– small prey whole, and larger prey in chunks.

“Let it be” is the barred owl’s nesting philosophy.  They take over tree cavities or old nests of squirrels, crows, or ravens, doing little to change them except perhaps to bring in a few fresh evergreen sprigs or feathers.

Barred owls pretty much stay put in their home territory.  Of 158 owls banded and recaptured in one study, none had moved farther than 6 miles. (

Barred owls go on the move when their territory is threatened by a rival barred owl, or when an enemy appears.  Their biggest enemy is the great horned owl, which you can also hear in our woods.  Great horned owls will attack barred owl eggs, young, and sometimes adults.  A barred owl may be forced to move from its perch when it’s mobbed by its potential prey–songbirds, crows, and woodpeckers.

Our maturing forests at Lathrop, interlaced with streams, increasingly provide the large dead trees that barred owls need for nesting and the large tracts of forest that provide their prey. As we protect our forests, our barred owls can stay put.


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