Photo: Rick & Nora Bowers/Vireo

Spotted Owl

Strix occidentalis

Because it requires old-growth forest, this owl has been at the center of fierce controversy between conservationists and the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest. The owl itself seems anything but fierce: it has a gentle look, and it preys mostly on small mammals inside the forest. Its deep hooting calls carry far on still nights, especially in southwestern canyons where they may echo for more than a mile. Found on their daytime roosts, Spotted Owls may allow close approach.
Conservation status Endangered in Pacific Northwest, possibly threatened in southwest. Requires undisturbed habitat and old-growth forest, does poorly in second-growth. A relatively new threat in the Pacific Northwest is posed by the arrival of Barred Owls, which spread westward across Canada in recent decades. Barred Owls are apparently displacing Spotted Owls in some areas, taking over prime habitats and sometimes interbreeding with their slightly smaller relatives.
Family Owls
Habitat Mature old-growth forests, conifers, wooded canyons. Along Pacific seaboard, mainly in undisturbed old-growth timber, including douglas-fir and redwoods. In southwest, generally in forested mountains and canyons, especially where tall trees grow close to rocky cliffs.
Because it requires old-growth forest, this owl has been at the center of fierce controversy between conservationists and the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest. The owl itself seems anything but fierce: it has a gentle look, and it preys mostly on small mammals inside the forest. Its deep hooting calls carry far on still nights, especially in southwestern canyons where they may echo for more than a mile. Found on their daytime roosts, Spotted Owls may allow close approach.
Photo Gallery
  • adult Northern Spotted Owl
  • juvenile Mexican Spotted Owl
  • adult Mexican Spotted Owl
  • adult Northern Spotted Owl
  • Northern Spotted Owl owlet
Feeding Behavior

Hunts mostly at night, but also by day while nesting. Hunts mostly by watching from a perch, then swooping out to capture prey in talons. Prey is taken from the ground and out of trees, and bats may be captured in the air.


Eggs

2, sometimes 1-3, rarely 4. Whitish. Incubation is by female only, 28-32 days. Male feeds female during incubation. Young: Female remains with young at first; male brings food for female and young. After about 2 weeks, female hunts also. If humans approach nest, adults perch nearby but make no active defense. Young leave nest at about 5 weeks, are tended and fed by parents for some time thereafter.


Young

Female remains with young at first; male brings food for female and young. After about 2 weeks, female hunts also. If humans approach nest, adults perch nearby but make no active defense. Young leave nest at about 5 weeks, are tended and fed by parents for some time thereafter.

Diet

Mostly small mammals. Specializes on small forest mammals, including woodrats, deer mice, voles, red tree mice (Phenacomys), small rabbits, bats. Also takes some small birds, reptiles, large insects.


Nesting

Male defends nesting territory by calling at dusk and at night. Pairs typically use same nest site for life, but may not nest every year. Nest: Chooses a sheltered site inside large hollow tree in deep forest, in cave or crevice in cliff, sometimes in old stick nest of hawks or other large birds. No nest built, makes simple scrape in debris in bottom of site.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

A permanent resident in many areas, but some mountain populations move to lower elevations for the winter.

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Migration

A permanent resident in many areas, but some mountain populations move to lower elevations for the winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
2 or 3 short barking hoots followed by a louder, more prolonged hooo-ah.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Owls

Spotted Owl

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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