By Ali Dunstan

Many birds of prey call Florida home, including the five species of owls that live here year-round. Those species include the barn owl, great horned owl, eastern screech owl, burrowing owl and barred owl.

The barred owl may be one of the most widespread and common owls to observe in our area. With their round head and stocky build, these large birds lack ear tufts and have vertical brown bar markings on their white, feather-covered chest.

Nocturnal by nature, these quiet and stealthy hunters are most active at dusk but can be seen and heard in daylight hours too. Their hoot is a low, rich baritone of eight to nine notes that sounds like a hoot, caw and cackle. They can often be heard in pairs communicating back and forth as they are very territorial creatures.

The barred owl’s diet consists mostly of small animals like rodents, squirrels and lizards. They have been known to prey on aquatic critters such as crayfish, frogs and fish as well. Barred owls roost in trees and nest in cavities within those trees. They prefer habitats near water and are commonly found in areas with lakes, ponds and swamps nearby.

Barred owls often live an average of 10 years in the wild and have survived for over 20 years in captivity. They mate for life and can utilize the same nest year after year to hatch their eggs and rear their young for up to 4 months.

Barred owls, like all birds of prey, are crucial components of a healthy food web and ecosystem. Not only do they keep many rodent, insect and reptile populations in balance by being a natural source of pest control, but they also do not have many predators, giving them a top position in the food web.

These beautiful birds do, however, face many challenges that stem from human development sprawl. One threat to their survival is the overuse of rodenticides. With rodents being a main food source, owls often fall victim to secondary rodenticide poisoning from eating the poisoned prey.

This sad and painful death to many raptors like owls can be avoided by eliminating the use of bait boxes and rat poisons all together. If you have a rodent problem, try instead to find and eliminate the source or utilize a non-toxic and humane alternative that is safe for all animals and can possibly save an owl’s life.