Barred Owl

Strix varia


Image of barred owl
The barred owl is the only large, brown-streaked, dark-eyed owl in Missouri.

Strigidae (typical owls) in the order Strigiformes (owls)


The barred owl is the only large, brown-streaked, dark-eyed owl in Missouri (the barn owl is the only other large eastern owl with dark eyes). The voice is ventroloquial (hard to locate), a varied series of hoots and screams. Although this owl is not often seen, its classic series of hoots is commonly heard and easily identifiable: “hoo hoo hoohoo, hoo hoo hoohooahh,” also described as “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?” This owl occasionally flies during daylight, especially when disturbed. Its flight is buoyant.


Length: 21 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail); wingspan: 3½ to 4 feet.

Barred Owl

owl with dark eyes perched on a branch.
Barred owl at Truman Reservoir Bethlehem
The barred owl is easily identified both visually and by sound. Learn to recognize its call, and on moonlit nights in their habitat, you may hear it quite often!


Photo of a juvenile barred owl perched on a walnut branch.
Barred Owl Juvenile
On May 20, 2017, this young barred owl had left its nest and was exploring the branches of the hollow walnut tree in which it was raised.

Barred owl

An owl in flight, its wings on the upswing. Bars of alternating brown and white are visible on the wings, body, and head.
Barred owl in flight at BK Leach Conservation Area

Barred Owl-20170201-1010

Barred owl in a tree
Barred owl in a St. Louis County backyard


Video of a barred owl.

Barred Owl

Barred owl
Audio of a barred owl.

Barred Owl in Laclede County

Photo of barred owl perched in an open barn window
Barred Owl in Laclede County
Barred owls provide a service to people by hunting small mammals that can be troublesome to us.
Habitat and conservation

Barred owls reside along forested streams, lakes, rivers, and swamps, particularly in deep woods with big timber. They forage at night and often even during the day. They lose habitat with the removal of large dead trees suitable for nesting. Other problems include stream pollution, collisions with cars, and predation and competition by great horned owls.


Prey includes small rodents, rabbits, frogs, snakes, insects, crayfish, and occasionally fish.

image of Barred Owl Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri



Common permanent resident.

Life cycle

Courtship and breeding take place from February through March in Missouri. Two or three white, round eggs are laid 20–40 feet above the ground in a tree cavity or occasionally in an abandoned hawk, crow, or squirrel nest. Incubation lasts 28 days, and the owlets are reared for 42 days.

Human connections

Owls provide a service to people by hunting small mammals that can be troublesome to our interests, especially to farmers and gardeners. Owls also have a long, rich history in human legends and folklore.

Ecosystem connections

As with many owls, barred owls are efficient predators of rodents and therefore do an important job of keeping their populations in check.