A hoot owl is an owl species native to Eastern North America. Known formally as Strix varia, the hoot owl is also known as the barred owl. These birds are of low concern in terms of conservation because their populations are healthy and robust. In fact, in some areas they are displacing the more vulnerable spotted owl, a threatened species found primarily in Western North America. Conservationists have expressed concern about the westward migration of the hoot owl and the policies put in forth to control owl populations.
Hoot owls are among the most vocal of all owls. They have a distinctive call with a rising and falling inflection pattern that sounds like “hoo hoo HOO aw.” The sound of the hoot owl has rising and falling stresses similar to those in the phrase “who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” The birds will also hiss when stressed, and use other calls for mating that include a drawn out “hoo WAAAAH.” Some of the sounds made by hoot owls can resemble barking.
Mature hoot owls are around two feet (60 centimeters) in height, with a wingspan about twice that. For all their size, the owls are relatively light, usually weighing in at about one pound (half a kilogram). They have distinctive barred plumage, brown eyes, and feathered legs. Unlike some owl species, hoot owls lack ear tufts.
These owls have very limited ranges, tend to mate monogamously, and can be extremely territorial. A hoot owl may not venture very far outside of his or her range over the course of a lifetime and visitors are decidedly unwelcome. The owls feed on small animals, usually around dusk, and are mostly active at night. Sometimes they may be active during the day as well and people sometimes hear hoot owls vocalizing in the forest during the daylight hours.
A great deal of mythology surrounds owls in general, including legends that alternately suggest that owls are omens of evil or wise guides that can provide assistance to people lost in the woods. Some of the legends suggesting that owls are ill omens may be explainable by the eerie sounds that some species make at night. For humans wandering in a dark forest, the screeches and hootings of owl species would be unsettling. Whether they are lucky or not, like other owls, hoot owls can be beneficial to have around the community because they will hunt small pests that might damage crops or ruin food supplies.