Spotted Owl

Spotted Owl

Strix occidentalis
Population size
Life Span
16-21 yrs
600 g
43 cm
114 cm

The Spotted owl is a resident bird of old-growth forests in western North America. During the night it hunts on small mammals and birds. This owl is under pressure from habitat destruction throughout its range and is currently classified as a near-threatened species.


Spotted owls are found in western North America, ranging in distribution from British Columbia to Mexico. They occur in a variety of hardwood and coniferous forest habitats, preferably in closed-canopy, uneven-aged, and old-growth forests. The Mexican subspecies can also be found in chaparral and pinyon woodlands, including areas in deep, steep-walled canyons with little canopy cover. The California subspecies uses unlogged, complex early seral forests created by wildfire for foraging.

Spotted Owl habitat map


Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Spotted owls are generally solitary birds and outside of the breeding season they prefer to spend time singly. They are territorial and in the breeding season their home ranges are usually smaller than in the nonbreeding season; females have larger home ranges than males. Spotted owls are nocturnal, sit-and-wait predators. They often hunt from a perch and swoop or pounce on prey, or may take arboreal prey from tree boles and limbs. These birds communicate with the help of hoots, whistles, barks, chatters, grunts, and groans.

Group name

Diet and Nutrition

Spotted owls are carnivores and most of their diet includes flying squirrels, woodrats, deer mice, pocket gophers, voles, snowshoe hares, and several species of squirrels. They will also hunt bats, birds (smaller owls, jays, woodpeckers, and various songbirds), amphibians, reptiles, and insects.

Mating Habits

early spring-late summer/fall
28-32 days
4-5 months
owlet, fledgling
2-4 eggs

Spotted owls are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds. Their breeding season occurs from early spring to late summer or fall, with pre-laying behaviors such as preening and roosting together starting in February or March. Spotted owls do not normally breed every year and rarely renest after failed breeding attempts. Pairs do not build their own nests, instead making use of cavities found in trees, deadwood, and snags, and the sites of abandoned raptor or squirrel nests. Some nest sites are used repeatedly. Normal clutch size is usually 2 eggs but may reach 4 on rare occasions. The female sits on the eggs and cares for the young, while the male provides food for them. Egg incubation lasts about 28-32 days. Owlets start to leave the nest and crawl onto nearby branches 34-36 days after hatching. Time from fledging to independence is usually between 3 and 4 months. Once independent, juveniles disperse in late summer to fall, in the northern range often settling into a wintering range before seeking out breeding territories in the spring. Young owls may start breeding at the age of one year, but two years or older is more common.


Population threats

The main threats to Spotted owls include severe wildfire and habitat loss due to timber harvesting. Barred owls may also compete with Spotted owls for food and space in some areas, thus having a negative effect on northern spotted owl survival and fecundity in some areas.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total Spotted owl population size is around 15,000 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Near Threatened (NT) ) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Spotted owls have blackish-brown eyes while most owls have yellow or red-orange eyes.
  • When owlets are ready to fly, their first flights can be awkward; they may make funny landings or even hang upside down from a branch until they are able to get back to their perch.
  • Owls are often associated with the goddess of wisdom, Minerva. She considered the owl a sacred bird, which gave it the reputation of having wisdom. This is where the saying “wise as an owl” came from.
  • During the day, Spotted owls usually perch silently in thick cover near a tree trunk. It is very difficult to spot them because of their coloring that blends well with the surroundings. A great way to hide from predators.
  • In some areas of their range, Spotted owls may hybridize with Barred owls and the hybrid owl will be called a 'Sparred owl'.


1. Spotted Owl on Wikipedia -
2. Spotted Owl on The IUCN Red List site -

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