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Northern Spotted Owl, Katrina Krause
© Katrina Krause

Northern Spotted Owl

Basic Facts About Northern Spotted Owls

The northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) is one of three subspecies of spotted owl. Like all spotted owls, the northern spotted owl lives in old-growth forests.

Although it is often considered to be a medium-sized owl, the northern spotted owl ranks among the largest in North America. The northern spotted owl is dark-to-chestnut brown in color and sports round or oval white spots on its head, neck, back and under parts. Its flight feathers are also dark brown and barred with light brown or white.


Northern spotted owls are primarily nocturnal hunters and eat flying squirrels, wood rats, mice and other small rodents. They are also known to eat birds, insects and reptiles.


Did You Know?

Spotted owls are one of the few owls that have dark colored eyes. Most owls have eyes colored from yellow to red-orange.

As a result of declining habitat, there are fewer than 100 pairs of Northern spotted owls in British Columbia, Canada, 1,200 pairs in Oregon, 560 pairs in northern California and 500 pairs in the state of Washington.


Northern spotted owls are typically found in old growth forests of northern California and the Pacific Northwest of the United States, as well as in southern parts of British Columbia, Canada.


Northern spotted owls are very territorial and intolerant of habitat disturbance. They prefer old-growth forests with tree canopies that are high and open enough for the owls to fly between and underneath the trees. Preferred areas have large trees with broken tops, deformed limbs or large holes used as nesting sites.

Did You Know?

The spotted owl serves as an "indicator species" for old-growth forests, meaning scientists study it to get a larger picture of the health of the ecosystem in which it lives.

Each pair needs a large amount of land for hunting and nesting, and although they do not migrate, spotted owls may shift their ranges in response to seasonal changes, such as heavy snows, that make hunting difficult. 

Northern spotted owls have a distinct flight pattern, involving a series of rapid wingbeats interspersed with gliding flight. This allows them to glide silently down upon their prey.


Mating Season: February or March.
Gestation: About 1-2 months.
Clutch size: 2-3 eggs.
The female incubates the eggs for 30 days. After hatching, the female sits with her offspring for 8 to 10 days, eating food brought by the male owl. The young fledge, or acquire the necessary feathers for flying, about 34-36 days after hatching.

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