Photo: Sylvia Hunt/Audubon Photography Awards

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.
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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.
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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.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Spotted Owl

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Spotted Owl

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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