About a week ago, two owls called on my road. One was a great horned and the other a barred. It's not the first time I have encountered the great horned close to my home. A few years ago, one was seen about 10 feet from my back door. However, hearing two competitors close together was very unusual.
The great horned owl is the biggest of the owls which live and breed here locally. There are a few ways of knowing if it is nearby. First, crows will flock to one spot from all over to mob the bird. They congregate in large numbers and raucously try to force their nemesis to leave. If you are lucky to see the owl fly off, it will probably return. Actually, more often than not, the owl stays put.
It is more common to hear the owl call. People have added the words ''Who's awake, me too,'' to this vocalization. Its scream or bark can be downright scary. The bird I heard was probably telling the barred owl that this was his territory. The barred subsequently vamoosed rapidly, so that it wouldn't be dinner for the great horned.
The barred owl’s call sounds like “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?”
Photo by Norm Karp
There's another important fact to know about the great horned owl. If you hear one of these birds and try to find it, it might be hard. Even at two feet tall, it can be very elusive. You might call it and give up, when it actually flew silently into a tree right above your head.
Maybe its talent for being quiet enables it to have much success in hunting. It's quite hard for me to believe, but I have read in several books that it can kill large birds such as herons, ospreys, swans and barred owls. It even eats skunks. However, in our area it eats mostly rodents and rabbits. Here's a word to the wise. They also like domestic cats. I have long felt that cats should be kept indoors because of their danger to birds. Now, there are two reasons to let our cats just be entertained by birds on the other side of the window.
On to the barred owl. Its 21 inches is about the same length as the rough-legged hawk. I have thought that the best place to find it is in wetlands. After my research, forests will also be checked for barking birds. I'll never forget hearing a very strange sound unlike anything I had ever heard. David Sibley describes it as a rising ''kssssssshhip.'' No wonder it's called the crazy or laughing owl.
Since the barred and great horned owls are so similar, how would you know them apart? The barred has dark eyes. (All the owls have yellow eyes except for the barred and barn owls.) Of course, it gets its name from its barred breast, which has vertical, broad stripes interspersed with much white. The great horned, on the other hand, has horizontal, narrow stripes in yellow background and a larger white patch on its breast. The barred has white eyebrows and more brown on the face compared to the orange face of the great horned. Then, don't forget that the barred doesn't have the ear tufts of the great horned. However, sometimes the bird flattens its tufts.
You might try to provide a nest box for the barred owl. Wouldn't it be a hoot to have barred owlets on your property?