This owl is nocturnal. It perches on a tree branch or something similar while it watches for prey. Their prey is wide-reaching, and includes mammals like meadow voles, shrews, deer mice, rats, bats and squirrels, birds, insects like grasshoppers and crickets and also fish, frogs and snakes. It is an opportunistic feeder and is sometimes seen feeding hunting just before dark.
Nesting sites often include cavities in trees and abandoned nests from hawks, squirrels and crows. It is highly vocal, and often can be heard calling during the day and night. They have a courtship call different than their usual call. Courting begins in February, and they breed from March to August. Courting is begun when a male hoots out and a female responds back. Males display to the female, in a behavior that includes raising and opening the wings and moving back and forth on a branch. Females usually lay 2-4 white, round eggs every 2 to 3 days. The male brings food to the female during this time.
It is found in the majority of North America, and a large part of the southern territory of Canada in deep, moist forests, wooded swamps and woodlands that are in close proximity to water sources. Anthropogenic threats to this owl include shootings and roadkill and natural threats include the aggressive Great Horned owl. They are currently expanding to further western habitats. This expansion raises concern regarding competition for resources with the endangered Spotted Owl.