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Owls of Vancouver Island

Updated on May 3, 2010

Owls of Vancouver Island

The barred owl is the most common owl on Southern Vancouver Island. Its extremely adaptabile to new terrorities and is found all throughout Vancouver Island and the lower mainland.

It was first spotted on the west coast in the 1960s and is suspected to have migrated to BC from eastern Canada. This nocturnal raptor has an aggressive temperance towards other large birds-of-prey and is now the most common owl on the island.

The Barred Owl of Vancouver Island - This owl was spotted at dusk along a roadside in East Sooke, BC. It was indifferent to our presence and continued to survey


The barred owl receives its name because the vertical bars on its lower breast. Its greyish-brown coat looks very much like the Spotted owl which resides in remote, old-growth areas of the mainland, but has become a much more successful BC resident due to its mobility, adaptability and hunting precision.

Both males and the larger females have the same plumage and markings. They have a whitish/brown facial disk with a brown, circular outline. Their tails are long which allows for agile flight. Owls are the most silent flyers of all birds which is one reason they make such formidable hunters.

These owls are usually solitary birds and rarely gather, except for mating pairs. In fact, most will strongly defend their territory from fellow owls and other birds-of-prey. It's suspected that this strong territorial instinct may be partial responsible for the declining number of other owl species on the island.


Height: 40 - 60 cm

Wingspan: 0.90 - 1.25 m

Weight: 0.5 - 1 kg

How to spot a Barred Owl:

These owls can be spotted during the day resting in trees, rafters or on any sheltered perch high above the ground (including balconies).

These nocturnal birds become active at dusk and can be found looking for prey near open fields and waterways. As night falls, they are more inclined to hunt as unsuspecting prey retreat to their dens.

Most resident birds to Vancouver Island treat the owl as a predator (except adult great horned owls, herons, geese & eagles). An owl's resting place may be divulged by crows and swallows that swarm, diving-bomb or chatter as they try to intimidate and harass it from their vicinity.

Owls are opportunistic hunters and will frequent fires in search of insects. They are not intimidated by humans but will usually keep their height advantage by sitting on open branches or ledges.

Our experience in East Sooke, BC:

We were staying at an oceanfront cottage in Sooke, BC and happened to see an owl chasing an eagle out of its territory. The graceful eagle flew unperturbed across the Sooke Basin while an aggressive owl swarmed and menaced the larger bird. It took less than 30 seconds for the pair to travel almost 500 m out of sight.

In another instance a goose was wildly squawking as it chased an owl in flight. We suspected that this was the owl's territory but it temporarily relinquished control to this migrating goose.

Habitats of the Barred Owl


Barred owls can survive and thrive in different types of habitats. It prefers forested areas close to open water or fields and claims both urban and rural areas as its territory as long as prey is available. Prey includes rodents, smaller birds, and insects. In the Sooke region, owls will even hunt fish in the water. They take advantage of the coho salmon returning to spawn in the fall and the juvenile fish migrating out to sea in the spring.


Nests are used to rear the young and can be found in hollowed-out tree tops or natural cavities of living or dead trees. They do not use branches or twigs but usually line the nest with wood-chips and scrapings. Broods range from 1 to 4 young but 2 is most usual.

Normally these birds will not be intimidated by humans and will remain on an elevated perch observing our behaviour. Breeding pairs will defend their nest and their young quite aggressively, including warning calls and dive-bombing.

Other Owl Species on Vancouver Island

Other owls to inhabit Vancouver Island include:

Western Screech Owls

These are small woodland owls that are very squat looking. These are the classic looking 'wise owls' with the large yellow eyes and raised ear tufts. Its round face is trimmed in black.

Northern Pygmy Owls

These tiny woodland owls are round and fluffy looking. They are greyish brown and sometimes reddish in colour.

Northern Saw-Whet Owls

This is a very tiny, short-bodied owl with a relatively short tail. Its overly large head has no ear tufts.

Great Horned Owls

As big as the barred owl, the Great Horned Owl varies in color from black and white to reddish brown. All have large, yellowish eyes with large tufts of feathers that appear to be 'horns'. They may look like ear tufts, but are not used for hearing.

Bald Eagle

BC is home to Canada's largest population of Bald Eagles. It's easy to spot a BC eagle throughout the province.


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