Northern Spotted Owl
Meet our education bird Hazel, a Northern Spotted Owl, and learn more about her species.
Hatched: Estimated spring 2002
Arrived at Audubon: January 2004
Expected lifespan: 15-20 in the wild; 15-25 years in captivity
History: Hazel was found starving on the ground in the Mt. Hood National Forest in January 2004. She had injuries to both eyes — consistent with some sort of impact — and her feathers were in terrible condition. A definitive cause of injury was never determined.
Staff and volunteers worked with the 2-year-old owl for more than a year, hoping to release her back into the wild. Within a few months, her weight increased from an emaciated 400 grams to more than 760 grams. Sadly, however, the damage to her primary feathers extended all the way down to the feather follicles, and many of the new feathers that grew in were deformed and misshapen. After more than a year of effort, it was clear that Hazel would never regain the ability to fly.
Release is always the primary goal for any native wild animal brought to the Wildlife Care Center, but this objective takes on even greater significance when the animal in question is a listed species like the Northern Spotted Owl, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Hazel was not banded when she arrived at Audubon, so it is not known whether she was part of a breeding pair.
You can help care for Hazel through Portland Audubon's "Sponsor a Wild Thing" program. Sponsorship is a great way to learn more about our incredible education birds; to help us meet the birds' food, medical, and housing needs; and to support our efforts to bring the birds to classrooms and events, where they serve as ambassadors for their species and Portland Audubon. Sponsor Hazel now.
Strix occidentalis caurina
Male length: 16-18 inches
Female length: 17-19 inches
Male weight: 1–1.5 pounds
Female weight: 1.25-1.66 pounds
Male wingspan: 42-44 inches
Female wingspan: 43-45 inches
Northern Spotted Owls are medium-sized owls with a round face and distinctive, dark brown eyes. They do not have feather tufts like Great Horned Owls. They are dark brown with a profusion of white spots on the head and back, while their underparts display a uniform pattern of rectangular brown and white bars. The tail feathers appear barred with lighter brown and white bands. The facial disk is grayish-white, barred or mottled with brown, and the chin is white. Like other Strix owls, they are round-headed and fluffy. Immatures look similar to the adult.
The Northern Spotted Owl is a resident of the old-growth rain forests that run from extreme southwestern British Columbia along the Pacific coast to San Francisco Bay. They are also found in the forests of the Sierra Nevada.
Subspecies of the Spotted Owl are found in the western ranges through southern California, as well as in the Rocky Mountains from southern Utah and southern Colorado south to Arizona and New Mexico and west to Texas and Mexico.
The Northern Spotted Owl lives in dense mountain forests, primarily coniferous, and thickly wooded canyons. It requires groves of mature, old-growth trees in ravines and canyons, typically close to permanently running water. It prefers areas which are neither too wet nor too dry.
The Northern Spotted Owl is a non-migratory bird.
The primary prey of the Northern Spotted Owl is the red tree vole, also found in old-growth forests. Other prey includes mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits. It will also eat crickets, large beetles, owlet moths, Steller’s Jays, smaller owls and bats.
This bird is strictly nocturnal, hunting by night and roosting quietly in tall trees by day. They use the same hunting techniques as most owls, relying on their excellent sense of hearing to locate their prey and their ability to fly silently to catch prey by surprise.
Spotted Owl pairs mate for life. They use a variety of possible nesting sites but prefer an old-growth tree or another bird’s abandoned nest. The pair will return to the same nest year after year. The breeding season lasts from early March to early May. Between two and four eggs are laid and the female incubates them for approximately one month. The hatchlings remain in the nest for about five weeks.
The Spotted Owl has four main types of vocalizations. First, a series of three to four hoots (the male is deep and mellow; the female high and penetrating): ”whoo-whoo...WHOO, whup...who-who...WHOO” or “who...huWHO...whoOO.” These hoots are leisurely paced and the last note is accented longer.
Second, a series of yelps at an even pitch and pace, accelerating slightly and ending with longer, louder notes: ”ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ha-ha-ha-haHooah-haHOOah-HOOah!” This is very dog-like and may be confused with the call of a coyote.
Third, a sharp rising whistle with a snap at the end: ”shoee EEE yip!” This is like the Barred Owl, but more frequent (females and young are most likely to give this call).
Finally, there is a duet version of the last two calls in which the male yelps and the female whistles. Other calls may be soft or explosive.
Spotted Owls are not aggressive even in the wild. They have been known to respond to calls by humans imitating their vocalizations, and come down for food offered to them. This extremely mellow personality has not helped them survive. Many of the birds have been attacked and killed by other owls encroaching into their territory.
In 1990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the Northern Spotted Owl to be a threatened subspecies. Declines were attributed primarily to the loss and adverse modification of the mature and old-growth forests on which the birds depend. Today, only 10-15 percent of these old-growth forests remain. Despite the ESA listing and development of the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994, which set aside large reserves of owl habitat for protection and restoration, owl populations continue to decline at an estimated rate of 4 percent annually across their range. Ongoing logging on state and private lands and salvage logging on federal lands remain major threats to the Northern Spotted Owl’s survival. Barred Owls have also migrated west, taking over much of the habitat where Spotted Owls were once found.