Skip to content

MARS Moment: Vancouver Island boasts seven species of owls

By James Mackenzie
The barred owl, so named for the “bars” running across their gray and white chest, is one of the most common owls on Vancouver Island. Photo by James MacKenzie The barred owl, so named for the “bars” running across their gray and white chest, is one of the most common owls on Vancouver island. Photo by James MacKenzie

By James Mackenzie

Special to the Record

Early spring is a fantastic time to find some of our most mysterious birds: owls.

Known worldwide for their nocturnal habits, captivating forward-facing eyes, and unique vocalizations, owls seem to have an aura that stops humans in their tracks.

Luckily for us, Vancouver Island is home to an incredible seven species of breeding owls, with a few more joining us as uncommon migratory or winter visitors. From the smallest northern pygmy owl, barely the size of a sparrow, to the imposing and widespread great horned owl, there exists more owl diversity on Vancouver Island than many folks might expect.

Most of Vancouver Island’s owls prefer mature intact forest, yet some species like the short-eared and barn owl course actively over farm fields and estuaries looking for their daily meal. Smaller, forest-specialist owls like the western screech and saw-whet can only survive as long as their habitat persists.

One familiar owl to many might be the barred owl: a large, round-headed owl with “bars” running across their gray and white chest. While the barred owl is likely the most common owl on Vancouver Island today, they were first spotted on the island in the late 1960s - a surprising fact to many. Barred owls followed humans westward into B.C. through the Peace region from their original habitat east of the Mississippi River, exploiting the trees we planted and the rats and pigeons that followed our cities and garbage. Now firmly established in our province, these common and successful owls have found their niche.

Birds of prey day

Pacific Northwest Raptors, located in Duncan, will be at MARS Wildlife Rescue on Sunday, April 23 to offer an individual, close-up experience with birds of prey.

MARS (Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society) is located at 1331 Williams Beach Rd, Merville.

Go to to learn more about this event and cost of admission.

About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

Read more