Northern Spotted Owl

Strix occidentalis caurina

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The Northern Spotted Owl is a medium-sized raptor with black eyes and dark brown plumage flecked with white. Like most owls, it is a nocturnal species that uses a “perch-and-pounce” technique for capturing prey. It prefers to live and hunt in the dense vegetation of forests, feeding primarily on small mammals and other birds.

The bird nests in the upper part of the forest canopy or in naturally-occurring cavities in diseased or dying trees. The owl mates for life and a breeding pair will produce small clutches of eggs (typically two but occasionally as many as four.) The female will tend to the young while the male hunts for food. Even after they’re capable flight, young owls may stay with the parents for several months until heading out on their own. A mated owl pair will usually stay together even in years when they do not produce eggs.

Range and Habitat

Due to its status as a Threatened species, the Northern Spotted Owl is only found in limited areas of the continental United States, including the Pacific Northwest, a fragmented range in California, and parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Along the Oregon Coast, the birds are found in mature coniferous forests with dense canopies. Prior to the widespread destruction of its native habitat, the bird is believed to have ranged from southwestern British Columbia to the San Francisco Bay.

Conservation Status

The Northern Spotted Owl is listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act and is afforded considerable legal protection as a result. Its continued survival depends on the maintenance of its habitat, which includes old growth forests at least 150 to 200 years in age. In recent decades especially, the owl has had to compete with human beings for the resources of these old growth forests. As more forested areas were diminished due to the need for lumber, the population of the owl dwindled. Beginning in the early 1990s, various recovery plans were established to help the owl while maintaining some access to old growth forest by the lumber industry.

More recently, the bird has also found itself in competition with its larger cousin, the Barred Owl. More aggressive and adaptable, the Barred Owl has successfully encroached on many of the Northern Spotted Owls breeding areas.

Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service.