The Spotted Owl caurina subspecies is a medium-sized, round-headed owl lacking ear tufts. The upperparts of the owl are brown spotted with buff, except for the top of the head and the hind-neck, which are spotted with white. The underparts are whitish; the abdomen and the chest are barred with brown.
The Spotted Owl is a permanent resident throughout its range, which extends along coastal forests from southwestern British Columbia to southern California, and along the southern Rocky Mountains from central Colorado to central Mexico. In British Columbia, the owl occurs north to Anderson Lake, east to Mowhawkum Creek, and west to Capilano River.
The Spotted Owl is associated with late successional or old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and the province of BC. In wet forest areas, Spotted Owls generally use stands dominated by conifers, though they may use mixed conifer-hardwood stands. These preferences reflect the availability of their most important prey species, the flying squirrel, which feeds on fungi growing on or around Douglas firs.
Spotted Owls begin breeding at two or three years of age. They usually mate for life and use the same nest site in subsequent years, though they do not breed every year. They usually nest in a tree cavity or in a crevice on a cliff, but will also use an abandoned stick nest in a tree. Clutches contain two or three plain white eggs.
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Spotted Owls in BC face extremely high mortality in their first winter. The movements of juvenile owls have been tracked by radio telemetry to determine their activity patterns, survival and recruitment rates, and causes of death. Two of the three chicks tagged with a radio transmitter in 2003 survived the winter. Of three young tagged in 2004, one is still surviving, one was killed by a Great Horned Owl, and the third died of starvation.
Habitat and prey availability are probably the most important limiting factors for this species. Within the range of the Spotted Owl in BC, about 3000 ha of forest is harvested annually. This logging impacts on the owl, because it alters forest structure and composition, isolates individual nesting pairs, removes potential nest trees, and fragments and isolates forest stands to the extent that they become unsuitable for owls. Nature Canada continues to urge the federal government to institute viable habitat protection which will directly benefit the Spotted Owl.
Since the food supply available to Spotted Owls is determined by forest type, structure and composition, forest management practices have an important effect on prey populations and ultimately on owl densities. Other threats include predation by Great Horned Owls, competition with Barred Owls, and toxic pollution resulting in thinned eggshells.
The Spotted Owl is on the brink of extinction in Canada. Recent estimates are that the entire population consists of just 33 pairs with a forecast 10% annual decline rate.
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Nature Canada has identified key Important Bird Areas that contain critical habitat for the Spotted Owl. Through our Important Bird Area Program, and with member support, we’re working to secure long-term protections for these areas to reestablish a viable Spotted Owl population in British Columbia.