Northern Spotted Owl

Strix occidentalis caurina

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Description: The Northern Spotted Owl sports feathers of chocolate brown with signature white markings, which cover their bodies all the way down the legs and the feet. The NSO’s wingspan can be up to 43 inches — that’s nearly as wide as a bike lane! Another fun fact: the Northern Spotted is the only owl species with dark eyes.

Habitat: The NSO can only live in old-growth forests exhibiting a complex structure: Broken treetops, woody cavities, platforms (usually built and abandoned by raptors and squirrels) and mistletoe brooms are their favorite nesting sites.

Endangered Species Act Listing status: Threatened.

Threats: Habitat loss is a big one, the factor that launched this shy owl into the public eye in 1990 when the listing was first made. Today, the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest continue to face encroachments from fire and human activity, but the NSO has another problem: other owls. Specifically, the eastern Barred Owl which directly competes for resources in the small habitat pockets left for Northern Spotteds.  

Estimated population: About 600 breeding pairs of NSO are left in Washington and British Columbia. Oregon has the largest population, at 1,200, and another 560 are found in northern California.

Superpower: Microclimate seeker-outer. The Northern Spotted Owl just loves old-growth Pacific Northwest forests too much to consider an annual migration. But when the winter chill descends on high mountains, these owls have been known to relocate to lower elevations. They also adjust to short-term variations in temperature by moving up or down in the forest canopy.

What’s being done? To protect Northern Spotted Owls, our best hope is to continue to fight for the remaining stands of old growth forests where they live and breed. These stands need a wide berth — NSOs require a 15-square-mile radius of territory in which to hunt. KS Wild is monitoring old growth stands across 8 million acres of land in Oregon and Northern California to ensure that they remain protected. Federal wildlife researchers have also experimented with eliminating Barred owls but the program remains controversial.

Learn more about our efforts to protect public forests and the wildlife.

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