The haunting rhythmic monkey like cries of the woods announce one thing, you are in Barred Owl country. The cool evening air of the Texas spring woods is often punctuated with these haunting hoots one of the most vocal of all native birds in the State of Texas. Heard at a distance but rarely seen the Barred Owls of the lower White Rock Creek drainage give an interesting look into a world that few see.
|Adult Barred Owl Strix varia in a Cedar Elm Tree, Dallas, Texas|
Most active after sunset, the Barred Owl is considered nocturnal but can also be seen and heard during the day during mating season. The birds feed on a variety of small animals including mice, rats and squirrels.
Distributed widely in the Eastern half of Texas they prefer large mature woodlands, marshes and stands of old growth trees. The larger trees are important to the Barred Owl as the old voids in the trunks provide nesting sites for their offspring. This habitat is similar to that of the Red Shouldered Hawk and the Barred Owl will often take over old Red Shouldered Hawk nests as their own.
|Male Great Horned Owl, White Rock Drainage, Dallas, Texas|
Territorial in nature, if one were to come up with a common dog breed similar to the Barred Owl, a good comparison would be a strong willed Jack Russell Terrier. Loud, compact, ferocious and an intense burning pride of territorial defense are hallmarks of this bird. Most of the photos in this post feature Barred Owls in deep seeded territorial defense of their nesting and feeding areas bounded by a heavily wooded creek and some open terrain.
|Female Barred Owl in deep woods, Dallas, Texas|
Typical Hoot- A series of 6 to 8 "Who Cooks For You" calls noting the bird's location to other Barred Owls in the area. These are often casual calls similar to a rooster calling at sunrise. If challenged with a reply, the owl will make more punctuated gestures with their calls, puffing feathers and moving their head around.
Woo-haaahs - These are response calls to the typical owl call above and seem to serve as a brief response to another owl that begins the initial calling. Seems that they are just checking in on each other around sunset to find each others roost locations.
Greeting Calls- These are the monkey calls and deep cackle calls that make the Barred Owls so special. Very deep resonating calls that are often loud.
Interesting that some researchers say that Barred Owls in the Southern United States carry a Southern Drawl with their vocalizations, a Rebel Yell of sorts vastly different from that of Northern birds.
Hey, with all this carrying on how about a baby?
|Barred Owls displaying courtship behavior|
|Male Owl flying towards the sound of foreign Barred Owls|
When that does not happen, when the calls from owls in another territory continue calls or even invade some invisible Maginot Line, the birds take to the air to defend their ground. Castle Doctrine time.
|Invader Barred Owl|
The Barred Owl pair has an adversarial foe some 1/3 mile distant. From the evening quarrels they seem to value the deepest portion of the creek bottoms as prime hunting habitat and will often vocally spar for rights over the creek that bisects the area. At right is one of the Barred Owls that has trespassed into the nesting couple's territory.
|Driving out the invading owl with a punctuated drop out of roost|
How to tell when an owl is angry
The blank look of frozen expression in birds most likely contributes to their use as table fare across the planet. I have never seen a happy or sad chicken. A bird that shows compassion for others etc. Personally, I have never seen it till looking through my photos of the owls. Below is a great example of how the male owl, seen below can change the entire look of it's body from that of a doe eye doll into some Boba Fett bounty hunter.
Courtship of the Barred Owls
In the video clip above, the two Barred Owls are displaying the textbook behavior of Barred Owl courting. Shoulder to shoulder, preening, grooming and mutual feeding. It almost appears as though they are French Kissing.
|Courtship behavior of Barred Owls, Dallas, Texas|
Things were always pretty quiet on occasional visits to the nest until one evening very recently when what should appear high in the treetops.......
|The Baby Barred Owl|
|The Female Adult Barred Owl|
Owls can only stay in nest cavities so long. They must fledge the nest earlier than other bird species in a process called "branching". This involves a precarious number of days where the owl sits out, literally on a branch being tended to by the adults.
In the fading evening sunset light when the last fading rays of the sun hit the wet oak leaves just right, the fuzzy ball of plush downy feather show the inner soul of a future varmit terminator. The fire burns bright in the eyes.
|Testing out a quickly growing pair of wings and feathers|
|Discovering claws and practicing hand-eye coordination grabbing things|
Above is an brief overview of the baby owl and parents that roost in nearby trees. Territorial calls by the parents, the baby looking at the world around it for the first time, the baby even passes a pellet or partially digested mouse of some kind.
|A curious baby Barred Owl watching the woodland floor below|
Interesting to watch. Many areas of DFW that have wooded tracts are home to Barred Owls. A keen sense of hearing coupled with some patience over a series of evenings can usually winnow down the territory of Barred Owls. The owls exist in a near unbroken chain over overlapping territories on White Rock Creek from Lake Highlands to the mouth of White Rock Creek in the Great Trinity Forest.