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Barred Owls of the New York Woods

May 10, 2017  •  11 Comments

On the backroads deep in the woods of the Southern Tier of New York State, I have been discovering a number of Barred Owls. It seems that every back road I drive down I can get a Barred Owl or two to come out to the roadway and allow the opportunity to observe and photograph them.

The Barred Owl (Strix varia) is a large typical owl native to North America. Best known as the hoot owl for its distinctive call, which says” Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” which is a typical sound of the forests and treed swamps. However, if you are not looking carefully for the owl as it comes in, it will pass completely unnoticed as it flies noiselessly through the dense canopy landing on a limb and watching your every move. I was looking for movement from an owl that was calling to me and paid no attention but to the sound he was making when I turned around a Barred Owl was right above me watching everything I was doing. He flew in silently making no noise when he landed.

The Barred Owl is one of the most beautiful of the owls, with soulful brown, almost black, piercing eyes and brown-and-white-striped plumage, and that round head give the Barred Owl its unique look.

Barred Owls live and sleep quietly in large, mature forests made up of both deciduous trees and evergreens, often near water. They nest in tree cavities. At night they hunt small animals, especially rodents. At times they can occasionally be heard calling in daylight hours. When you are out and you hear that classic call, “Who cook for you”, you want to go investigate because you have the ability, as long as they are talking, to locate them.

The Barred Owl also has distinct interaction call where the two owls have gotten together. The Interaction call is very loud and called Caterwauling.  When the pair of owls joins up in the same tree or nearby, the two owls call to each other, it seems as if the owls are trying to outdo each other, it is so distinct that you cannot miss it. It goes on for quite some time, if you hear that you know that they are together.

I have lived in the town Candor for over fifty years, I have hunted, fished and walked through the woods on many occasions and have never heard or even saw an owl. Back in those days, there were more farms and the use of DDT was prevalent. The widespread use of DDT almost wiped out many birds of prey.

However, the summer of 2016 changed for me as I saw several Barred Owl and One Great Horned Owl. I typically drive slowly down the back roads throughout the area, where there is a dense forest. I call periodically for the Barred Owls with my cell phone and a blue tooth speaker.  I bought an App for my cell phone called iBird 7.2 pro, an interactive field guide to birds of North America. The app has birding ID as well as sounds. This made locating the owls much easier.

I drive down the roads I frequently stop, listen and make a sort two–phrase hoot call “Who cooks for you, who cook for you all” and listen attentively. Sometimes you can hear them calling way off deep in the forest. I make a few more calls and carefully observe the area, as they will come in silent. When an owl comes in he usually passes over and lands nearby and starts calling back to you. At times, a second owl will come in to the first one and the woods come alive with caterwauling calling as the owls go into their interaction call.


My first encounter with a Barred Owl came as drove slowly down the road. I noticed a steep side hill with a stand of thick hemlocks on one side of the road and deciduous on the other. It looked like an owl so I made a call; to my surprise I heard hooting off in the distance and I was very amazed that I heard an owl in NY State.


As I moved down the road the woods changed into a mixed deciduous and confers. I stopped, made a short call and there was an owl flying across the road directly in front of me. I quickly stepped out and took photos of him. In all my years living in NY, this was the first owl I ever saw.

Now that I had located and photographed a barred owl, I would take the opportunity to find more owls. I go out and travel the back roads, listening for that distinct call of the Barred Owl. I have at least 15 different Barred Owls come in from the distant woods to the road investigating the owl call.

Just recently, I learned they are territorial. I stopped on one of the back roads and made a short call and immediately one flew down out of a tree, came right at the car as a confrontation to the other owl calling from my speaker, then up into the tree, and started calling. I slowly got out of the car and found him perched just above me on a branch. On another occasion, another Barred Owl did the same thing, flew straight up above me, and stared down looking for the intruder.  Once they come in they have tendency to stay around and call. I call back and they will move but always nearby.


It has been hot and dry this summer and on hot days the owls are not active they remain silent and sleep all day until the coolness of the evening, you can call for a long time and you not going to hear a peep. However, since then we have had some rain and cooler nights, the owls are more active.


It has been a great summer for the Barred Owls; they seem to be thriving, finding plenty of food and water and seem to be multiplying. It is encouraging for me as a photographer to see the number of barred Owls I have found in the area. I learned a lot this summer observing and photographing the Barred Owls, how they react to each other, how they react to people, where they live, making it a remarkable and pleasurable place to go capture some beauties of nature, “Barred Owls of the New York Woods”.


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