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Spotted Owl (Strix Occidentalis)

The Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis) is found in North America and can be identified by its dark brown feathers with white spots. It is a species of true owl and is typically found in old forests.

This owl is found between British Columbia to Mexico, where it feeds on small mammals. There are few left (only 15,000 mature individuals), as this species is categorized as near-threatened.

Scientific Classification

Scientific NameStrix Occidentalis


Common NameSpotted owl
Name of YoungOwlets
Number of Species3
Social BehaviorSolitary
Group NameParliament
PreySmall mammals, birds, insects, reptiles
Favorite FoodSmall rodents
Activity PatternNocturnal
Biggest ThreatHabitat destruction
PredatorsGolden eagles, great horned eagles, other large raptors
DistributionNorth America
HabitatOld-growth forests, coniferous forests, closed-canopies
Est. Population Size15,000
Conservation StatusNear-threatened
Lifespan20 years

Physical Characteristics

Height1.5 feet
Weight570 grams
Colordark brown feathers with white spots
Skin typeFeathers
Wingspan4 feet
Top speedna

Spotted Owl Pictures

One of the most interesting and unique birds rarely seen is the spotted owl. These birds are not often seen by bird enthusiasts or bird watchers, but they are definitely worth seeking out if you have the opportunity. 

northern spotted owl
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5 Interesting Spotted Owl Facts

The spotted owl is rare in the wild. With its unique marking, there’s no mistaking a spotted owl when you see one. Here are a few other facts that you might want to know about these beautiful birds.

  1. Spotted owls have unique blackish-brown eyes[1].  This helps them to see in the dark and catch their prey. It’s unique compared to most owls that have red-orange to yellow eyes.
  2. The first flight of the spotted owl’s owlet is awkward. Owlets have to learn how to fly and maneuver in flight, which can be challenging since they are so heavy. There are times when they’ll land clumsily or even hang upside down.
  3. The spotted owl has several calls. They make a variety of calls to communicate with one another, including hoots, barks, and yelps. They use it to either warn predators or let others know about their territory.
  4. Spotted owls are monogamous. This means that they form a bond with one other owl and stay together for life. They will mate for life and share parenting responsibilities.
  5. Spotted owls usually live in forests that are more than 200 years old. They depend on large old-growth forests for their survival. This is because they need large trees to nest in, and they rely on the older trees for food and shelter. Deforestation can be a major threat to their population.

Spotted Owl Classification

The spotted owl is a member of the Strigidae family, which includes true owls. The spotted owl is specifically classified as Strix occidentalis. This classification means “western owl” in Latin.

The spotted owl is a native bird of North America and has been present on the continent for millions of years[2]. The spotted owl is specifically adapted to live in old-growth coniferous forests. These forests are characterized by a high density of trees, a large canopy, and a thick layer of duff on the ground.

Types of Spotted Owls

There are three subspecies of spotted owls. These are the northern spotted owl, the Mexican spotted owl, and California spotted owl.

  • The northern spotted owl is found in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia.
  • The Mexican spotted owl is found in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
  • California spotted owl is found in California.

The northern spotted owl is the smallest of the three subspecies. It has a wingspan of about 43 inches and weighs about 1.5 pounds. The Mexican spotted owl is larger than the northern spotted owl, with a wingspan of about 50 inches and a weight of about 2 pounds. California spotted owl is the largest of the three, with a wingspan of about 54 inches and a weight of about 2.5 pounds.

The Mexican spotted owl is the most endangered of the three subspecies. There are only about 1,000 Mexican spotted owls remaining in the wild. The northern spotted owl is listed as threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and California spotted owl is listed as endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Related: All Owl Species (List)

Spotted Owl Anatomy and Appearance

The Spotted Owl is a medium-sized owl that is found in North America. They have brown and white plumage, and their eyes are blackish brown.

These owls have an average length of 17 inches (43 cm), a wingspan of about 43 inches (110 cm), and weigh between 1-1.3 pounds (600 grams). They have a short, rounded tail, and their beak is yellow. 

They look familiar to the barred own but can be distinguished by their smaller size and less gray colors.

Spotted Owl perched on a branch
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Spotted Owl Distribution and Habitat

The Spotted Owl is well adapted to life in dense forests and can be found in a variety of habitats, including old-growth forests, young-growth forests, and riparian zones.

They are most commonly found in the Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine forests of the West Coast, but they can also be found in the mixed hardwood and conifer forests of the East Coast.

Spotted Owls prefer to live in areas with a large amount of old-growth forest[3]. In fact, they require at least 500 acres of old-growth forest to survive. This is because old-growth forests provide a large number of the owl’s preferred prey items.

These criteria of old-growth forests limit their habitat, which makes deforestation a severe threat to their continued survival.

Spotted Owl Behaviour and Lifestyle

Spotted owls are solitary birds. They are also territorial. This means that they do not like to share their territory with other spotted owls, and they will defend their territory against other animals.

They spend most of their time hunting. They don’t build their own nests, but instead make use of cavities in trees or abandoned nests from raptors and squirrels.

As with most owls, spotted owls are nocturnal, hunting by night and sleeping by day.

Spotted Owl hunting
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Spotted Owl Diet

The Spotted Owl is a nocturnal raptor that feeds primarily on small mammals, such as rodents. They will also eat birds, reptiles, and insects.

Owls have very sharp talons that they use to catch their prey. They also have a sharp beak that is used for tearing meat. Spotted Owls usually hunt by perching in a tree and watching for prey below. They can also fly low over the ground to catch prey.

Owls have a very good sense of smell which helps them find prey. They also have very good hearing which allows them to hear prey moving in the dark.

The most common prey animals of spotted owls include small mammals such as rodents, birds, and reptiles.[4]

Related: What Do Owls Eat?

Spotted Owl Predators and Threats

Predation and habitat loss are major threats to the spotted owl. They are preyed on by hawks, eagles, and other predators. They are also susceptible to disease and parasites.

The owls depend on old-growth forests for their habitat, and these forests are being cleared at an alarming rate. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, the spotted owl’s habitat has decreased by nearly 60% in the last two decades. This has resulted in the spotted owl being categorized as near-threatened by the IUCN Red List.

Predation is also a major threat to the spotted owl. Owls are preyed on by hawks, eagles, and other predators. They are also susceptible to disease and parasites.

hawk carrying prey

Spotted Owl Life Expectancy and Breeding

Spotted Owls breed once a year, and the female typically lays two eggs. The eggs hatch about 30 days after they are laid, and the young owls stay in the nest for about 10 weeks.

After leaving the nest, the young owls will stay with their parents for a few more months before becoming fully independent. 

Spotted Owls can live up to 20 years in the wild, and up to 25 years in captivity, if they receive proper care. The average life expectancy is much lower, as many owls are killed by predators.

Spotted Owl Population and Conservation Status

The northern spotted owl is a threatened species in the United States. While there are many factors that have contributed to this decline, the main threat to the spotted owl is habitat loss.

Logging and deforestation have drastically reduced the amount of old-growth forest that the owls rely on for habitat. In addition, the owls are also threatened by climate change, disease, and predation.

There are several organizations that are working to protect the spotted owl population. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has created a recovery plan for the owl, and many conservation groups are working to promote sustainable forestry practices.

It is important to protect the spotted owl population, not only because they are an endangered species, but also because they play an important role in the ecosystem. These owls help to control populations of rodents and other small animals, and their loss could have serious consequences for the health of the forest.

Spotted Owl FAQs

Are spotted owls aggressive?

Spotted owls are very protective of their territory. If you see a spotted owl, it is important to give it plenty of space and not to approach it too closely. It is also important to never harass or disturb an owl, as this can make them quite angry and aggressive.

How many spotted owls are there left?

There are approximately 15,000 mature individuals. The spotted owl was once a common sight in the Pacific Northwest, but their populations have declined significantly in recent years due to loss of habitat.

About Kaitlin Mullins

Birds are plenty, and they can be hard to keep track of. Thankfully, Katilin Mullins has taken charge of these. With plenty of free time spent bird watching, she’s a true expert on these intriguing animals.

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