Northern Spotted Owl

There is probably no species more closely associated with our majestic ancient forests than the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina). However, unsustainable logging practices used throughout the last century have left only remnants of our old growth ecosystems, and the Northern Spotted Owl now perches on the edge of extinction.

Bird Alliance of Oregon has worked for decades to protect Northern Spotted Owls and the old growth forests on which they depend. In fact, it was a result of a petition filed by Birds Connect Seattle,  Bird Alliance of Oregon, and others that led to the listing of the Northern Spotted Owl as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990 and to the first significant protections of old growth ecosystems under the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994.

Northern Spotted Owl by Scott Carpenter

Threats to the Northern Spotted Owl

Despite more than two decades of listing under the Endangered Species Act, Northern Spotted Owl populations remain deeply imperiled. Spotted owls have been completely pushed out of British Columbia and continue to decline at a rate of up to 9 percent annually across their entire range. The latest science indicates a 7% annual decline in the Oregon Coast Ranges.

It will take decades to restore the old growth ecosystems on which Northern Spotted Owl and myriad other species depend. Recovery efforts in federal forests face challenges from continued attempts to roll back habitat protections established in 1994 as part of the Northwest Forest Plan, even as the best available science tells us that even stronger protections are needed. In some areas of Oregon, protections for Northern Spotted Owls are very weak – especially on private lands and in state forests. In addition, a new threat has emerged. Barred Owls, a species native to the eastern United States, have expanded their range into the Pacific Northwest, and are competing directly with Northern Spotted Owl for habitat, putting even more pressure on this imperiled species.

Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Work to Protect the Northern Spotted Owl

Bird Alliance of Oregon continues to actively work to protect Northern Spotted Owls and the old growth and mature forest ecosystems on which they depend by:

  • Advocating for strong old growth and mature forest protection plans at on federal, state and private forest lands
  • Tracking Northwest Forest Plan revisions
  • Managing our own 336 acre sanctuary at 10-Mile Creek near Yachats to provide habitat for Spotted Owls and other old growth dependent species.
  • Tracking and commenting on decisions regarding lethal control of Barred Owls to benefit Spotted Owls.
Northern Spotted Owl
Northern Spotted Owl by Scott Carpenter

Natural History: Northern Spotted Owl

Name: Northern Spotted Owl

Scientific Name: Strix occidentalis caurina

Conservation Status: Threatened in Oregon and federally

Habitat: Nests and roosts in mature and old-growth forests. Northern Spotted Owls prefer thick, complex forest structures with multiple canopy layers.

Food: Northern Spotted Owls feed primarily on Northern Flying Squirrels (our smallest tree squirrel and the only nocturnal member of its family in Oregon.) Other small mammals including woodrats and tree voles are important food sources, as are occasional birds, amphibians, and insects.

Nest Type: Broken tree tops or cavities in large-diameter conifers. These owls also reuse abandoned hawk nests, as well as the dense platforms created by our native Dwarf Mistletoe species. 

Behavior: Nocturnal. Northern Spotted Owls form lifelong pair bonds, and the pair shares a year-round territory. Aside from interactions with their mate, these are solitary owls. They are territorial during the breeding season, protecting their nest site from intruders, but otherwise non-aggressive.   

Description: A medium-sized owl (16” to 19”) with dark eyes and without ear tufts. Northern Spotted Owls are mostly chocolate brown with white spots on their head, wings and breast.  They are often confused with the much more common Barred Owl, which is a bit larger and paler, and has vertical streaks on their breast.

Fun Facts!

  • Northern Spotted Owlets stay in the nest for a month or so after hatching. Once they fledge, they spend up to 3 additional months begging from their parents, gradually gaining the skills to forage on their own before finally dispersing in the fall. 
  • Spotted Owls are considered a top predator, though they are occasionally preyed upon by large forest raptors including the Northern Goshawk and Great Horned Owl, both of which sometimes nest in the same areas of forest.
  • Northern Spotted Owls take advantage of forests after a wildfire, assuming enough mature forest was left unburned. They forage for rodents in recently burned areas and remain in their territories as long as adequate mature tree canopy remains nearby.
  • The larger and more aggressive Barred Owl has expanded its range into our western forests. Barred Owls present a threat because of competition and interbreeding, but it is the loss and fragmentation of suitable habitat caused by aggressive logging practices that have pushed Northern Spotted Owls to the brink. Let’s restore our old-growth forest ecosystems!