The most common and most commonly encountered owls in the North Carolina piedmont are the large and impressive barred owls (Strix varia). Although primarily nocturnal, they are more likely to be active during the day than most local owl species, and their call is a loud and unmistakable series of hoots: Hoo hoo hoo-hoo, Hoo hoo hoo-hoo-ooo (often rendered as “who cooks for you. Who cooks for you all). We see adult barred owls once or twice a year in the woods around our house and garden, and we very often hear pairs calling to each other as we are falling asleep.
The four barred owlets in these pictures are in a tree belonging to some friends of ours who live in the city of Durham. The tree is at the edge of a small undeveloped woodland tract very close to Interstate 85, and I suspect that the adults’ hunting range must include the gardens of the urban neighborhoods surrounding the woodland.
I had never seen baby owls before, so I was thrilled find them out during the day when I could get some decent photos. Their nest hole was high in the tree, but I was able to get close enough with the zoom lens on my old Canon SX40 HS. The parent birds were nowhere in sight, but the babies sat very still and peered solemnly down at me, making them excellent subjects for photography.
Each owlet had found a different place to perch, two of them more than 15 or 20 feet down long horizontal branches. I wonder if this spacing is defensive behavior, as a predator that spotted one owlet would be less likely to find the others.