The Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis) is a medium-sized species of owl native to the continent of North America. It is typically characterized by white spots on its head and breast from which it derives its name. It is quite popular among environmentalists as it is considered to be the indicator species for old-growth forest which it inhabits. Though important, it doesn't share the popularity status that several other animals of the North American continent do, and that explains why people are ignorant about some of the most obvious Spotted Owl facts that make this species so interesting.
Facts about Spotted Owl
Even though the Spotted Owl resembles the Barred Owl to a great extent, there do exist some obvious differences between these two species. The cross shaped marking on the underparts of the Spotted Owl, and the relatively large size of the Barred owl are some factors which help in distinguishing between the two. There exist several other facts about these species which not many people are aware of.
While most of the people are aware of the fact that this owl doesn't build its own nest, very few people know that they don't even defend it from predators; instead they prefer to sit at a distance and watch the predator ransack its nest. Their tendency to hunt flying squirrels in mid-air is yet another interesting facts about this species.
Habitat and Geographical Range
The Spotted Owl inhabits the mountainous region and humid coastal forests of North America. The natural habitat of this species is typically characterized by dense dark or mixed mature old-growth coniferous forests. As we mentioned earlier, this bird is considered to be an indicator species for these forests. There exist three sub-species of the Spotted Owl which are found in three different regions of North America:
- The Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) found in Canada to southern Oregon.
- The California Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis) found in California.
- The Mexican Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) found in the mountain ranges of Texas.
Size and Appearance
The Spotted Owl is one of the largest species of owls found in North America. The males in this species grow on to attain a length of 18 inches, while the females are slightly larger at 19 inches. In contrast to their length, the wingspan for males is 43 inches which is larger than the same in females is 42 inches.
On an average, an adult weighs somewhere between 1-1.75 lbs. They sport a brown plumage with white spots on their face, breast and belly. While white spots on wings and back do exist, their concentration is not as dense as it is on their face, breast or belly for that matter. The thick plumage of Spotted Owls does make them appear oversized at times, but they are not as big as the Barred Owls whom they closely resemble.
Hunting and Diet
Spotted Owls are strictly carnivorous in nature, i.e. they hunt and feed on a wide range of small mammalian species, reptiles, insects and birds with whom they share their natural habitat. While their diet tends to differ from one region to another, mammals such as flying squirrels, voles, wood rats, etc., have a special place in their diet. Being nocturnal, these owls most often hunt at night. Though the instances are rare, at times this owl does resort to hunting during the daytime. As with most of the carnivorous birds, even Spotted Owl swoops down on its prey and grabs it by its claws. As we mentioned earlier, this species does have the amazing ability to grab birds smaller in size in mid-air.
Not just the juveniles, but even the adult Spotted Owls are threatened by predators. Other species of birds - such as the Great horned owl and the Golden eagles, are known to hunt and feed on juvenile as well as adult owls. As they don't defend their nests, the eggs and young ones are under the constant threat of predators which are not restricted to birds, but also include some mammals and reptiles. While the average lifespan of this species of owl in captivity is somewhere around 21 years, the same in wild is believed to 16-17 years. This explains why the mortality rate in juveniles is a whopping 60-95 percent a year.
The breeding season in this species begins in early spring and continues till late summer or fall, in course of which the female lays an average of 2 eggs which are incubated for the next 30 days. The pair of Spotted Owl is monogamous in nature, and therefore, they choose a new partner only when the old partner dies. More importantly, they don't prepare their own nest, but instead resort to tree cavities or abandoned nests to lay their eggs. The young ones start leaving their nests when they are five weeks old, and get well-versed with flying by the sixth week. While their average lifespan in the wild is approximately 17 years, they attain sexual maturity by the age of 3 years.
Sadly, even this species has had to bear the brunt of human encroachment in the wild, which has resulted in habitat loss for this species. The controversy wherein environmentalists and loggers/sawmill owners were pitted against each other - with former demanding protection for this species and latter criticizing the ban on logging activities which resulted in job loss, made it to the headlines during the second half of the 20th century.
While the Spotted Owl species as a whole has been enlisted as a 'Near Threatened' species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, its subspecies - the Northern Spotted Owl and Mexican Spotted Owl, have been enlisted as 'Threatened' under the Endangered Species Act.