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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Spotted Owl -- Strix occidentalis


RANGE: Resident from southwestern British Columbia south through western Washington and western Oregon to southern California; also in the mountains of southern Utah, central Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and extreme western Texas south into northern Mexico.

STATUS: Rare; habitat is limited due to harvesting of old-growth forests. The Northern Spotted Owl subspecies is federally listed as a threatened species.

HABITAT: Inhabits dense coniferous forests with crown closures of at least 80 percent or mixed woodlands and deeply shaded canyons in coastal and mountainous areas of the West. In California, prefers dense fir or Douglas-fir forests on sheer, heavily wooded cliffsides or in narrow canyons, but also inhabits stream valleys well grown with oaks, sycamores, willows, cottonwoods, and alder tangles. In Southwest, favors forested mountain tablelands and canyons from 5,500 to 9,000 feet with dense aspen clumps and creek fringe maples.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Cavities for nesting and at least 600 acres of dense, old-growth forest or deep, narrow, well-wooded canyons per pair.

NEST: Generally nests in cool, shaded areas with well-developed understory and near water. Prefers natural cavities in the old-growth trees, especially Douglas-fir or oaks, with broken tops and infested with mistletoe. Also will nest in cliff cavities, cave floors, occasionally abandoned hawk or raven nests, and hollow logs on the ground. Rarely builds its own nest in the crotch of a tall tree.

FOOD: Preys on a wide variety of animals, but mainly takes small mammals; also eats small birds and large insects.

REFERENCES: Heintzelman 1979, Karalus and Eckert 1974, Marshall 1942, Tate and Tate 1982, Zarn 1974c.


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