Yreka Fish and Wildlife Office
Pacific Southwest Region
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Local Species Information - Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina)


Northern Spotted Owl, Strix occidentalis caurina.  Photo by Nick Dunlop (Copyright).

Northern Spotted Owl, Strix occidentalis caurina.

Photo by ©Nick Dunlop.

 

General Information


 
Status:
Federally listed as Threatened
 
Date Listed:
Listed on June 26, 1990
 
Critical Habitat:
Designated Critical Habitat last revised on August  13, 2008 Additional Critical Habitat documentation and GIS layers available 
 
Recovery Plan:
Recovery Plan finalized on May 13, 2008 Additional Recovery Plan documentation and GIS layers available

 
5-year Status Review:
Last 5-year status review completed on November 15, 2004

Natural History

 

Background

The northern spotted owl is typically associated with multi-storied, older forests of the Pacific Northwest.  Loss of these forests due to timber harvesting, catastrophic wildfires, volcanic eruptions, and wind storms were cited as the reasons for listing in 1990.  In 1994, the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) was adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, and U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management.  The goal of the NWFP is to manage public lands such that the need for forest products and forest habitats are balanced within the range (map below) of the northern spotted owl.  In 2004, the first 5-year status review of the status of the northern spotted owl was conducted.  This review highlighted the range expansion of barred owls (Strix varia) into the range of the northern spotted owl.  Later, in 2008, the Final Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl identified the barred owl as a threat to the continued persistence of northern spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest.  

 

Identifying Characteristics

Adult northern spotted owl, Photo by Greg Vaughn 1999 (Copyright)

Adult northern spotted owl, Photo by © Greg Vaughn 1999

 

Markings: Northern spotted owls are a medium-sized owl (sixteen to nineteen inches in length) of chocolate-brown color with white spots on the breast and head.  Unlike most owl species, the iris of spotted owls (Strix spp.) are brown not yellow.  Two pictures below show the difference in eye coloration of a northern spotted owl from a great horned owl. 


Northern spotted owl, dark iris; photo by Nick Dunlop (Copyright)Northern spotted owl, dark iris;
photo by ©Nick Dunlop


Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), yellow iris; photo 2004 George W. Hartwell (Copyright)Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), yellow iris; photo by © 2004 George W. Hartwell

          

Look-a-like Owls:  Barred owls are slightly larger than northern spotted owls.  The markings of barred owls are similar in that they are brown, but are different in that the markings on the breast and head are vertical bars rather than spots.  


Barred Owl, Strix varia.  Photo by Jim Stamates.Barred Owl, Strix varia

 

Feather Identification:  Feathers from various birds have been scanned for easy identification.  To see scanned images of feathers from northern spotted owls, click flight feathers or body feathers.

 

Look-a-like Feathers: Feathers from other raptors can be similar in appearance to those of northern spotted owls.  To see scanned images of feathers from common forest raptors, please click here. 

 

Vocalizations:  The territorial call of a northern spotted owl is a 4-note hoot.  Other vocalizations of northern spotted owls include a contact whistle (frequently used between the pair when delivering prey), agitated barking, and juvenile begging.  (Vocalizations are in Windows Media format.)

 

Sound-a-like birds: To hear vocalizations of birds with similar calls to northern spotted             owls, click on a name below:

      Band-tailed pigeon  

      Barred owl

      Flammulated owl

      Great horned owl

      Long-eared owl

      Mourning dove

      Northern pygmy owl

 

Geographic Range

The range of the northern spotted owl extends from British Columbia, Canada south through Washington, Oregon, and portions of northern California.

 

   Map of the states in which northern spotted owls can be found.

Map of the states in which northern spotted owls can be found. 


Habitat

Northern spotted owls use coniferous forests that have developed a multi-storied structure.  Layered canopies in these forests provide opportunities for nesting, roosting, and foraging.  Because northern spotted owls do not build their own nests, they rely on existing structures such as cavities in snags (standing, dead trees), broken tops of trees, mistletoe clumps, and nests built by other forest raptors (e.g., northern goshawk).  Features such as snags and down logs are important hiding cover for northern spotted owl prey species (including, but not limited to: woodrats, flying squirrels, mice, voles).

 

Within the Klamath Province, northern spotted owl nests are frequently located in habitats that are on north facing slopes and are on the lower one third of a slope.  North facing slopes and lower slope position are generally associated with cool and moist habitats.  The milder conditions found in these areas provide for nesting, roosting, and foraging opportunities that are not possible on harsher landscapes (south facing slopes and higher slope position).  

 

Prey

Woodrats and northern flying squirrels are two common prey species of the northern spotted owl.  Other prey include mice, voles, bats, and insects.

Dusky-footed woodrat, Neotoma fuscipes; Photo by Roger W. BarbourDusky-footed woodrat, Neotoma fuscipes;  Photo by Roger W. Barbour

Bushy-tailed woodradt, Neotoma cinerea; Photo by Roger W. BarbourBushy-tailed woodrat, Neotoma cinerea;
Photo by Roger W. Barbour



Northern flying squirrel, Glaucomys sabrinus; Photo by Larry Master 2003 (Copyright)

Northern flying squirrel, Glaucomys sabrinus;

Photo by ©Larry Master 2003

 

Reproduction

Northern spotted owls typically nest every other year.  Females lay one or more eggs in early spring, with a clutch commonly producing 2 chicks.  Chicks are capable of short flights in August, but are dependent upon their parents for food for another couple of months.  Juveniles typically disperse from their natal territories in early fall.

 

Adult northern spotted owl with 2 young; USFWS file photo.

Adult northern spotted owl with 2 young;

USFWS file photo 

Current Information


A list of literature pertaining to northern spotted owls, habitats, and prey is available here.  Additional literature citations will be added to this list as they become available.


Conservation Actions


Habitat Conservation Plan 

The Yreka Fish and Wildlife Office (FWO) is working on a Habitat Conservation Plan with Fruit Growers Supply Company.  Follow this link to the Notice of Public Scoping and Intent to Prepare a Joint Environmental Impact Statement for Fruit Growers Supply Company’s Multispecies Habitat Conservation Plan, Siskiyou County, California


For more information on Habitat Conservation Plans, click here


Safe Harbor Agreement

Safe Harbor Agreements are agreements between private land owners and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  The Yreka FWO is not currently involved in Safe Harbor Agreements for the northern spotted owl.  For more information on Safe Harbor Agreements, click here


Spotted Owl Management Plan 

Spotted Owl Management Plans are “no take” plans developed by private land owners in conjunction with the USFWS.  The Yreka FWO currently monitors Spotted Owl Management Plans implemented by Timber Products Company and Hearst Corporation.  For more information on Spotted Owl Management Plans, click here


Candidate Conservation Agreements

There are no Candidate Conservation Agreements for the northern spotted owl.  For more information on Candidate Conservation Agreements, click here


Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances

There are no Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances for the northern spotted owl.  For more information on Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances, click here.

 

Links for More Information


National USFWS Northern Spotted Owl Species Profile

Federal Register Notices & Documents

Survey Protocol and Vocalizations