Unusual | Owl

Noisy chatter, frantic flitting from branch to branch

Why did a small band of Scrub Jays display so much distress?

Because-  an unusual daytime visitor arrived at the edge of Glencoe Swale wetland. One, “who,” up until now, was known only by its night time calls(Click to hear)


Perched on a leafless willow limb, about 30 feet from our front porch, was the cause for all the commotion. There, illuminated by the warm light of the Golden Hour was a lone owl being harassed by the jays.

Without hesitation, my 150-600mm lens was mounted to my Nikon D7100. Then, as slowly and quietly as possible, I positioned myself in a non-threatening location. As the Golden Hour ticked away, so did my camera… 100 shots or more.



Daylight hours soon faded into sunset. The owl became more active, but, didn’t show signs of leaving… I took a chance. To shoot more photos in the fading light, I returned inside to mount the lens on my D500.

Wing stretches



Grooming talons






What luck! The owl remained for quite some time before taking flight into the nearby woods. At this point, I was anxious to identify the subject of this glorious photo session. One of the photos was selected and submitted to the Merlin Photo ID feature on my iPad.


Here’s the result:

Barred Owl (Strix varia)

RARE” Large owl, mottled brown and white. Rounded head lacks ear tufts. Black eyes. Favors large, mature forests with deciduous and coniferous trees, often near water. Hunts small animals at night; however, is more active during the day than other owls.



Interesting Facts about Barred Owls


Mostly small mammals. Eats many mice and other small rodents, also squirrels, rabbits, opossums, shrews, other small mammals. Also eats various birds, frogs, salamanders, snakes, lizards, some insects. May take aquatic creatures such as crayfish, crabs, fish.


Barred Owls have the ability to fly almost soundlessly through the trees. When most birds fly, the air turbulence created by wing flapping produces sound, and, typically, the larger and faster a bird is, the noisier its flight. But not owls.

“Owls have a suite of unique wing and feather features that enable them to reduce locomotion-induced sound,” says Krista Le Piane, a graduate student at the University of California, Riverside who recently presented her work on the evolution of silent owl flight at the Animal Behaviour Society conference in Ontario, Canada. They have large wings relative to their body mass, which let them fly unusually slowly—as slowly as two mph for a large species like the Barn Owl—by gliding noiselessly with little flapping. Additionally, the structure of their feathers serves as a silencer. Comb-like serrations on the leading edge of wing feathers break up the turbulent air that typically creates a swooshing sound. Those smaller streams of air are further dampened by a velvety texture unique to owl feathers and by a soft fringe on a wing’s trailing edge. These structures together streamline the air flow and absorb the sound produced. (11/30/17 cut from: http://www.audubon.org/news/the-silent-flight-owls-explained)


Barred Owl (left) vs. Spotted Owl (right)
Photo credit: City of Portland Parks & Recreation

Barred Owls (left) vs. Spotted Owls (right)

Barred owls are native to eastern North America, moving westward over the past century. The first barred owls arrived in British Columbia in 1959 and were first documented in Oregon in the mid-1970s (see figure one.) 

The smaller spotted owl is native to the Pacific Northwest, and relies upon old-growth forests for their habitat needs. Due to the spotted owl’s specific habitat needs, we call them ‘specialists’ in their preference for only old-growth forests. Barred owls are ‘generalists’ in nature, meaning they have fewer specific habitat requirements, and can occupy a wider variety of habitat types. Spotted owls are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to a decline in old-growth forest habitat. Additionally, barred owls encroach upon and reside in spotted owl habitats, furthering to contribute to spotted owl decline. In areas with established barred owl populations, spotted owl populations have been recorded to decline more dramatically the longer barred owls are present.

Figure 1: History of Barred Owl, Spotted Owl Range

There are conflicting views surrounding the management of barred owl populations. While the US Fish and Wildlife Service has issued permits allowing limited lethal control on an experimental basis in a small number of areas where spotted owls are established (typically Old Growth forests), this is not an issue in the Portland Metro area. Spotted owls do not occur in the Portland Metro area. Furthermore, barred owls are protected under federal law and harming or killing them without a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service is illegal and can result in a jail sentence of up to 6 months and/or a fine of up to $15,000. Portland Parks & Recreation treats barred owls just as it would treat any other protected species. (11/30/17 cut from: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/article/554309 )

Weekly Photo Challenge:  “Unusual

Photographs taken week of November 27, 2017

Helpful resources if you want to learn more:

Barred Owl:
Audubon Field Guild-
Barred Owls in Portland
The City of Portland Oregon-


  1. What a terrific encounter, Jane, and you’ve certainly made good use of the opportunity with some stunning photographs!

    Coincidentally, we featured the African Barred Owl on our blog earlier this week.

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