Fish-seeker: Video catches barred owl hunting koi
When I ran a wild bird feeding store, I would periodically get people asking me for help with their koi ponds. Sometimes great blue herons or green herons like to use them as them as their personal bird feeders. Koi are attractive fish and you can train them to visit the surface of the water and feed from your hands. If a raccoon or coyote stops by to drink water, the eager fish looking for food are a welcome treat to those opportunistic mammals.
Recently, Mary Kratzke sent me a video from the security camera in her yard. I watched the snowy yard and could see the shapes of several koi near the surface of the pond. An owl is clearly perched on a nearby bench. Given the lack of horns on the head and the size, it’s a barred owl. At the very end of the video the barred owl takes off, pauses over the pond and continues to fly towards the back of yard. The number of koi visible is clearly reduced.
I’ve worked with captive owls over the years including barred and great horned owls. Barred owls tend to be smaller and lighter than great horned owls. If you had asked me about which predator will eat just about anything, I would have said great horned owl, but the more I Iearn about barred owls, the more I find out they eat just about anything, too.
I’ve encountered them many times in the river bottoms of the Mississippi River in my work as a park ranger. When I did bird surveys in swamps in the southern United States, they were a constant field companion hooting and hunting moist areas I was working. In my old neighborhood in Minneapolis we had a resident barred owl that had pellets containing gray squirrel and shrew skulls. At the time I also had a resident screech owl and when I went to look for it, I found the barred owl perched in the tree the screech typically roosted in and screech owl feathers on the ground.
Doing a deeper dive on barred owl eating habits, I learned that I am greatly underestimating what this predator will eat. On Instagram I found game cam footage of a barred owl going for caterpillars and possibly a snake.
Looking up barred owl habits on Birds of the World online documents them hunting for fish during the day as well as running around on the ground to catch amphibians. They will also wade into shallow water for crayfish or mussels. This explains why barred owls frequent swamps and river bottoms. So they may be smaller than a great horned, but they still have a huge variety of creatures they consider worthy prey.