Patient of the Week: Barred Owl

By Ashley Lema, Wildlife Rehabilitator

On February 2, we received this Barred Owl from Gladstone, Oregon. A good Samaritan found the owl in the road the night before, leading us to believe the bird was struck by a car. They took the owl to DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital, our partners for after-hours wild patient drop-off. Once transported to our Wildlife Care Center by one of our amazing volunteers the next morning, we examined the owl and found injuries to their head, including weakness, a dull affect, bruising and damage to one of their eyes. Birds that are struck by vehicles often have broken bones, but thankfully in this case, screening X-rays showed no fractures or other internal trauma.

Barred Owl getting eye exam in our Wildlife Care Center
The Barred Owl receiving an eye examination. The bird is being held with raptor handling gloves to protect our staff, and a towel so we can limit the birds vision and stress when not looking at their eyes with our ophthalmoscope.

Because raptors (hawks, owls, etc.) need to hunt and catch their prey, eyesight is essential to their survival. After two weeks of cage rest, pain medication, and treatment of the eye injury we were able to move the owl to a larger flight enclosure, so they could rebuild flight muscle strength that was lost while recovering from their injuries. With medication and the time to heal in safety, the bird has completely recovered. A few days ago, they were released back to their home territory by another wonderful volunteer!

Barred Owl’s are stocky, fairly large owls, with round heads, big brown eyes and yellow beaks. Their feathers are mostly brown overall, but buffy below with dark streaks or bars, and brown on their back with white mottling. They are typically nocturnal, but are sometimes active in the morning and evening. You can listen for their iconic call that sounds like, “who cooks for you?” These owls tend to roost in forest trees during the day, and then sit quietly, swiveling their head to listen for small animals below, while hunting at night from a perch.

Although Barred Owl’s are found in many different habitats, they weren’t always found in the Pacific Northwest. Originally a bird of the East Coast, biologists hypothesize that tree planting by settlers across the Great Plains of Canada facilitated its westward expansion. However, it is worth noting that their journey westward might have happened naturally millennia ago, but the indigenous people of North America frequently burned the plains, preventing the natural establishment of trees. While the answer will likely never be known, it remains an open question as to whether human activity prevented a natural range expansion or caused an unnatural expansion. Regardless, after the Barred Owl colonized western Canada it quickly expanded its range southward, establishing itself in the forests of Washington and finally arriving in Oregon in the 1970s. Today this adaptable owl can be found across much of Oregon, from our old growth forests to our cities. Their proliferation has been nothing short of remarkable. They can be found in most of our natural areas, recreational parks and even in our neighborhoods. 

The occurrence of the Barred Owl in the Northwest is not without controversy. Barred Owls present a huge threat to one of the Northwest’s most imperiled species and its close relative, the Northern Spotted Owl. The Northern Spotted Owl is currently listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act due to loss of old growth habitat on which it depends. The larger more aggressive Barred Owls compete directly with Spotted Owls for nesting habitat and have been known to kill Spotted Owls. Although Spotted Owls are long gone from the Portland metro region, their continued population decline has led the US Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct research involving lethal control of Barred Owls in old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. The debate over what, if anything, to do about Barred Owls is riddled with ecological and ethical question marks. Many species such as House Finches, Scrub Jays, and Green Herons are here today as a result of range expansion and we have come to accept them as part of our ecosystem. For now, Barred Owls enjoy the full protection of federal law and nobody is proposing any sort of control outside of old growth ecosystems. Folks can continue to enjoy this beautiful, charismatic and highly visible owl. However, as we do so, we should also be reminded of our connection to the broader landscape and renew our commitment to fighting to protect our old growth forests and the Barred Owl’s rapidly disappearing cousin. 

The Barred Owl sitting on a branch after being released back to their home territory.

Why Do Birds Get Hit By Cars? And How Can I Help?

  • Collisions with vehicles are among the top reasons we receive injured birds here at our Wildlife Care Center. In the U.S., an estimated some-hundred million birds die annually on our roads. Some groups of birds are more affected than others, including ground-dwelling birds, waterbirds, fruit-eating birds, and birds that are drawn to attractants near roads like carrion or salt. The specific risk of being hit by a car for each of these groups is due to a number and combination of factors, including: maneuverability, feeding behavior, habitat, and flight height. 
  • Some owl species commonly forage/hunt for food at the same height as vehicles, which can make them particularly vulnerable to collisions.
  • If you’re driving and hit an animal or see an injured animal beside the road, remember safety first! There are many places where it isn’t safe or legal to stop or pull over, such as on a highway or bridge. Chasing an injured animal on the side of a busy road can also sometimes end up spooking the animal into traffic. When stopping to help would be dangerous, take detailed note of where the animal is (e.g. a mile marker or landmark) and find a safe place to stop. Then reach out to the State Police, who can respond to freeway hazards and are able to safely manage traffic. Stick around to show where the animal was, help capture, and/or transport the bird if you can.
  • Be cautious of raptors’ beak and talons! These birds have defense mechanisms that they can and will use when threatened. We always recommend not touching the animal if possible–some people will use a large blanket to throw over the bird, some will simply place a box or can on top and slide cardboard underneath, etc.
  • Reminder: baby season is just around the corner, and many of our wild babies are still learning many things from their parents, including how to navigate in the built landscape. Be patient, allow animals to cross, and drive slower at night when vision is reduced.

What to Do If You Find An Injured Animal

  • The best thing you can do is contain the animal in a securely closed (but ventilated) box and keep the animal quiet and undisturbed until you can transport it to your closest wildlife rehabilitation facility. Do not offer food or water.


Here at Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Wildlife Care Center, we accept new patients from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day. You can also leave a message on our Wildlife Hotline at (503) 292-0304 or email and one of our wildlife solutions counselors will get back to you and provide advice for your specific situation.


Unfortunately due to COVID-19 we had to operate our Wildlife Care Center this past year with about 20% of our normal staffing and with about a 25% increase in our annual patient admissions. We were left with the difficult but necessary decision to discontinue providing follow-up updates on patients brought into our center so that we could focus on the daily care of the animals. And while we simply cannot write a story about each animal, our goal for this fresh and bright new year is to show you what we can: in the form of a weekly patient update! Check in every Thursday for our “Patient of the Week”; with information on the species, the circumstances that brought the animal in, and preventative advice so you can be a better steward for our wildlife!

If you’d like to contribute to the Wildlife Care Center, please consider making a donation here. Your support helps us save lives.