Barred Owls

(Strix varia)

The barred owl is a medium sized owl that is native to Eastern North America and expanded its range into British Columbia over the last 70 yearsThe barred owl is a generalist species that can thrive in a wide variety of habitats, including old growth coniferous stands. The barred owl is a larger, more aggressive species that will compete for habitat and food with the spotted owl. There have been cases of hybridization between spotted owls and barred owls, as a spotted owl will mate with a barred owl.

The Purpose of the Barred Owl at the NSO Breeding Program

Barred and spotted owls are closely related species both physiologically and phylogenetically, as they both belong to the Strix genus. As such closely related species, we can learn a lot about the spotted owl by having the barred owls bred in captivity as well. We currently have one breeding pair of barred owls at the NSO Breeding Program that began producing eggs in 2014.

Increase Artificial Incubation Knowledge

The barred owl eggs are run through the exact same incubation process under the same parameters as the spotted owl eggs to help us test our methodologies and refine our techniques. We have learnt a lot about the similarities and differences between the two species.

Fostering Chicks

We have used barred owl chicks as a stand in for spotted owl chicks to give inexperienced spotted owls the opportunity to raise a chick. We fostered a barred owl chick to a newly formed pair and they immediately took care of the chick. A barred owl chick was given to a female spotted owl that was not pair bonded, and she also cared for the chick. This knowledge gives us more opportunities for returning spotted owl chicks in the future. We no longer have to rely on a select few pairs when we are returning chicks to a nest after the hand-raising process is over. Both sets of foster parents did a great job and proved their readiness for the real thing.

Testing Release Strategies

While practice with barred owl eggs and chicks is important, another reason that we breed them is to see how young owls bred and raised in captivity adapt when released into the wild. Since releasing spotted owls is such a huge component of the species survival plan, and with each and every individual spotted owl being so important to the future success of the species, it is imperative that we develop a well-thought out and tested release strategy. We need to know that when these spotted owls are released into protected old-growth forest they will have the best opportunity for survival. The young barred owls are raised in captivity with as little human influence as possible and then tagged with GPS transmitters and released into carefully selected habitat, just as we plan to do with the spotted owl juveniles in the future. Our field biologists will follow the newly released birds for 4-6 months to see how they cope with finding food, dispersing and establishing their own territories, finding a mate and, ultimately, if they survive. The data that we gather from this study will provide essential information that our team needs to give the young spotted owls the best possible chance for success when we begin releasing them.

Forrest the barred owl

The first barred owl born at the NSO Breeding Program was imprinted on humans to be used as an ambassador for the Program. The male chick was named Forrest and gloved trained for educational purposes. Forrest is a key component of our education and outreach programs and can be seen at many events throughout the Lower Mainland.

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Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program

Langley, BC

Phone: 604 371 4434


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