Monday, August 21, 2017

Episode 382 (8-21-17): Barred Owl

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (3:54).

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 8-18-17.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of August 21, 2017.

MUSIC – ~ 7 sec

This week, that excerpt of “Turn Out the Lights,” from the album “See Further in the Darkness,” by Bob Gramann of Fredericksburg, sets the stage for a nighttime mystery sound.  Have a listen for about 20 seconds, and see if you can guess who’s making these nocturnal hoots.  And here’s a hint: not seeing this creature doesn’t BAR you from identifying it.

SOUNDS - ~19 sec

If you guessed a Barred Owl, you’re right!  You heard Barred Owls—along with crows—calling at Mountain Lake, Virginia, under a bright moon near midnight on August 5, 2017.  Named for brown horizontal and vertical feather bars, the Barred Owl is one of 19 owl species in North America, seven of which are found regularly in Virginia.  The Barred Owl is found year-round in the Commonwealth’s wooded habitats, both in uplands and lowlands, and frequently around water.  According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, it “prefers low, wet, deep woods [and] heavily wooded swamps, often near open country where it [hunts] for food.” That food is mainly rodents, but also includes other small mammals, insects, crayfish, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and fish.

Like owls generally, the Barred Owl has exceptional hearing and night vision for finding prey, a strong beak and talons for seizing prey, and feathers adpated for silent flight to avoid alerting prey.  In the early 1800s, John James Audubon described a Barred Owl’s silent flight this way: “So very lightly do they fly, that I have frequently discovered one passing over me, and only a few yards distant, by first seeing its shadow on the ground, during clear moon-light nights, when not the faintest rustling of its wings could be heard.”

Thanks to Bob Gramann for this week’s music, and we close with about 25 more seconds of what could be an owl’s theme song: “Turn Out the Lights.”

MUSIC – ~25 sec


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


“Turn Out the Lights,” from the 2001 album “See Further in the Darkness,” is copyright by Bob Gramann, used with permission.  More information about Bob Gramann is available online at

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.   More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at

Thanks to Carola Haas and Peter Lazar for their help with this episode.


Barred Owl painting originally published between 1827 and 1838 by John James Audubon in Birds of America (plate LXVI [46]), as reprinted in 1985 by Abbeville Press, New York.  Photo taken August 18, 2017, from the reprint copy (no. 6 of 350 copies printed in 1985) owned by Special Collections of Virginia Tech Libraries.  Virginia Water Radio thanks Special Collections for permission to photograph their copy and for their assistance. Information about Birds of America is available from the National Audubon Society, online at
Barred Owl in South Carolina, date unspecified.   Photo by Mark Musselman, made available for public use by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Digital Library, online at, accessed 8-18-17 (direct link to image is


From the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Species Information, “Barred Owl,” online at

From Life History

“This is a large gray owl spotted with white above, barred transversely on breast and striped lengthwise on the belly and flanks.  It has a large rounded head, no ear tufts, large brown eyes and a yellow bill.”

“REPRODUCTION: The breeding season is from February 28 through April 14 with a peak in March. Incubation lasts 28 days, and the average number of offspring is generally 2 (2-4).  There is 1 reproductive period/year, although they will renest if the eggs are removed or lost early in the nesting season.  Courtship consists of a loud spectacular vocal display which is engaged in by both sexes and occurs in the late winter or early spring.  The typical nest tree is tall with a suitable nest cavity greater than or equal to 7.6 meters above the ground.   Nests have also been reported in the tops of broken snags.  The recommended dbh [diameter at breast height] for cavity trees suitable for nesting is greater than 50.8 cm and cavities above 9 meters may be prefered.”

“BEHAVIOR: They are highly defensive of the area immediately around the nest. The home range is from 213-912 acres.  This species is apparently an opportunistic feeder and takes whatever prey is available of a size which can be handled.  Usually prey on rodents; they also prey on birds, herps, insects, crustaceans, and others.  The nest is usually poorly constructed, and most often the owl will use the nest of red shouldered hawk, squirrel, or some other animal with only slight modification.  The young develop relatively slowly, and they will move out of the nest 4-5 weeks after hatching.  The young show fully developed plumage by mid-September.  Parental care of the young is extended throughout the summer and possibly longer.  Considering the display of long-lasting pair bonds, high degree of territoriality, and nest site fidelity by the barred owl, this may be a fairly sedentary species.  As long as they are usable, nest sites may be used by barred owls year after year.”

“LIMITING FACTORS: The major limiting factor is the scarcity of appropriate nesting cavities.”

From Habitat Association

“This species prefers low, wet deep woods, heavily wooded swamps often near open country where it may hunt for food.   It frequently uses mixed or coniferous woods for nesting and roosting.  It prefers mature oak woods for nesting and feeding.   They require an expansive forested area that contains large mature and decadent trees that provide cavities suitable for security and reproduction.  Eastern populations are usually associated with mixed woodland, boreal forest, mixed transitional forests and deciduous forests.  Barred owls are found in mature forests in habitats ranging from upland woods to lowland swamps.”


Used in Audio

John James Audubon, “Barred Owl,” in Birds of North America, made available online by the Audubon Society at  This is the source of the Audubon quote used in the audio.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists’ Union, “Birds of North America Online” online at (subscription required).

David W. Johnston, “Foods of Birds of Prey in Virginia – Part I. Stomach Analyses,” Banisteria (Virginia Museum of Natural History), No. 15, 2000.

National Audubon Society, online at

National Geographic Society, “Owls Can’t Move Their Eyeballs,” online at

Chandler S. Robbins et al., A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2001.

Floyd Scholz, Owls, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Penn., 2001.

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheires (VDGIF), Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Species Information, online at Direct link to “Barred Owl” is This is the source of the VDGIF quote used in the audio.

Joel Carl Welty, The Life of Birds, 2nd Edition, W.B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia, 1975.

For More Information about Birds

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Merlin Photo ID.” The application for mobile devices allows users to submit a bird photograph to get identification of the bird. Information is available online at

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, “eBird,” online at Here you can find locations of species observations made by contributors, and you can sign up to contribute your own observations.

Virginia Society of Ornithology: online at The Society is non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation Web site at The site provides bird songs from around the world.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above ( See particularly the “Birds” subject category.

The following are episodes focusing on or including owls.
Episode 227, 8/18/14 – Eastern Screech-Owl;
Episode 381, 8/14/17 – Midnight at the Water.


The episode may help with Virginia 2013 Music SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

This episode may also help with the following Virginia 2010 Science SOLs:

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
1.5 - animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.
3.4 - behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 - living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.5 - food webs.

Life Science Course
LS.8 - community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.

Biology Course
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at