Living Bird Magazine
Spotted OwlStrix occidentalis
- ORDER: Strigiformes
- FAMILY: Strigidae
In the 1990s the Spotted Owl was catapulted into the spotlight over logging debates in the Pacific Northwest. This large, brown-eyed owl lives in mature forests of the West, from the giant old growth of British Columbia and Washington, to California's oak woodlands and the steep canyons of the Southwest. At night it silently hunts small mammals such as woodrats and flying squirrels. Despite federal protection beginning in 1990, the owl is still declining in the Northwest owing to habitat loss, fragmentation, and competition with Barred Owls.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Spotted Owls are rare and difficult to find. Like most nocturnal owls, your best bet is to find appropriate habitat (which differs among the three subspecies), and then patiently listen for their hooting calls during the night.
- Cárabo Californiano (Spanish)
- Chouette tachetée (French)
- Cool Facts
- Three subspecies of Spotted Owl are recognized. The Northern Spotted Owl lives from northern California to British Columbia, and is the darkest brown with the smallest white spots. The California Spotted Owl lives only in California, is lighter brown and has larger spots. The Mexican Spotted Owl is the smallest and lightest race with the largest white spots. It lives from Utah and Colorado southward into southern Mexico.
- Besides ongoing habitat loss, Spotted Owls now face an additional threat. In recent decades the Barred Owl has expanded its range and begun competing with the Northern Spotted Owl. Barred Owls are larger, more aggressive, more reproductively prolific and more adaptable than Spotted Owls, and have begun to displace them in many parts of the Pacific Northwest.
- The most important food items for the Spotted Owl are flying squirrels and woodrats. In areas where woodrats make up the bulk of the diet, the owl has a smaller home range. The Spotted Owl also eats bats and other owls.
- When faced with more food than they can eat, Spotted Owls may cache prey in relatively cool niches such as moss-covered tree limbs, broken stumps, under fallen logs, or among moss-covered rocks. An owl that has just cached prey will sit upright, stare at the cached food, then slowly back away from it on foot, as if to fix the location in its mind.
- Young owls often "branch" or leave the nest to perch on adjacent limbs before they can fly. When young Spotted Owls do fly, their first flights can be awkward, involving clumsy landings or ending with a fluffy owlet hanging upside down until it can regain its perch.
- An individual Spotted Owl may not breed every year. Some do not breed for periods of five to six years. Although survival of juvenile owls is low, adult survival is high.
- The oldest recorded wild Spotted Owl was a female, and at least 21 years old when she was found alive in Oregon in 2006 and identified by her band. She had been banded in Oregon in 1988.