WatchList Species Account for Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species



The Spotted Owl has received much study in recent years because of its favored habitat and the controversies that surround it—old-growth conifer forests with a high commercial value. Many tracts of this habitat have been clear-cut or otherwise exploited, bringing about the decline of the owl. The disputes and attempts at resolution have generated several major management plans, various reviews of the owl’s status, several literature reviews, and a symposium. A positive side is that the bird has served to stimulate innovative research and more comprehensive conservation planning. It is found from sea level to 1,200 m in the northern part of its range and to 2,700 m in the southwestern U.S.


There are three recognized subspecies: the Northern Spotted Owl (caurina), found in the Pacific Northwest from British Columbia to central California, the California Spotted Owl (occidentalis), found mainly in the Sierra Nevada but also in the California coastal ranges from Monterey to Santa Barbara, and the Mexican Spotted Owl (lucida), in scattered localities in Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico and south into central Mexico. The bird tends to select mature, old forest stands with an accompanying selection against young stands. It uses forests with a considerable degree of complexity and structure in both managed and unmanaged forests. Roost sites typically are in areas with high canopy closure and multiple canopy layers, dominated by large-diameter trees. These are usually cool, shady spots, and it is hypothesized that the bird requires old-growth forest to avoid summer heat stress. In hunting its prey, primarily rodents, it tends to avoid flying over brushy and clearcut forest areas and recently logged forests.


Data indicate that populations are declining. The major threat is loss and degradation of habitat due to clear cuts and even-aged tree management. Urban and suburban expansion has also taken a toll. Competition and hybridization with the closely related Barred Owl, which has arrived in the Spotted Owl range in recent years, is also a threat to the species. Barred Owls displace Spotted Owls and the numbers of the former have increased considerably within the range of the Spotted Owl in the past 25 years.