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Aggressive owls are nesting in Grand Teton National Park for the second straight year

A pair of barred owls sit in the trees
Tom Stanton
For Wyoming Public Media
A female barred owl (left) with a gopher in her mouth. The female is larger than the male (right).

Before last summer, the barred owl's call – “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” – was scarcely heard in Grand Teton National Park. But scientists worry that it may become more common, as the owls are nesting in the area for the second consecutive summer.

For many animals, that call portends danger. Aggressive apex predators, barred owls are known to hunt birds, including other owls, along with small mammals and reptiles.

Katherine Gura, a research scientist who works with the Teton Raptor Center, recognized the call from her childhood home in North Carolina. She said the newcomers may create complications for great gray owls, an endangered species and one of Gura's research specialities, in the area.

"If we look at what's happened with barred owls moving into the Pacific Northwest, where they've essentially out-competed spotted owls, there's a potential for the barred owl in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to similarly outcompete native species," said Gura.

Nesting barred owls aggressively protect their territory. Gura said the owl has created serious problems for spotted owls, an endangered species in the Pacific Northwest.

"Whether that means pushing other raptors out of their territories or competing with other species for food, there's a good chance that they are going to have a significant impact," Gura said.

In some instances, the barred owl has successfully mated with spotted owls, which could dilute the latter's gene pool, creating "sparred owls."

The barred owl migrated from the eastern U.S. Scientists believe that human expansion across the Midwest created islands of trees that enabled the owl's westward push.

Gura added that it's too early to tell which specific impacts the barred owl will have on the area. But she and her colleagues are watching and listening closely.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

David Dudley is an award-winning journalist who has written for The Guardian, The Christian Science Monitor, High Country News, WyoFile, and the Wyoming Truth, among many others. David was a Guggenheim Crime in America Fellow at John Jay College from 2020-2023. During the past 10 years, David has covered city and state government, business, economics and public safety beats for various publications. He lives in Cheyenne with his family.