Bird GuideOwlsSpotted Owl

At a Glance

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.
Near Threatened
Arroyos and Canyons, Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains
California, Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Flap/Glide, Rapid Wingbeats

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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


16 1/2 -19" (42-48 cm). Dark eyes, round head with no "ear" tufts. Much like Barred Owl but a bit smaller, with different pattern below (brown with white spots).
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Broad, Rounded
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

2 or 3 short barking hoots followed by a louder, more prolonged hooo-ah.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Hoot, Whistle


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.



2, sometimes 1-3, rarely 4. Whitish. Incubation is by female only, 28-32 days. Male feeds female during incubation.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Spotted Owl. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

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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