Sunday, February 16, 2014

Spotted Owls

Spotted owl- Wikimedia
Barred owl range-
After years of threatened existence, it seemed the spotted owl might have a more secure future.  Chain saws roars were controlled in its limited range and its home forest preserved.  Then came another threatening sound - "Who cooks for you," the familiar cry of our beloved barred owl.  Now there is a new sound, gunfire aimed at controlling the barred owl population.

Back in 1999, Smithsonian and others reported the invasion of barred owls into the spotted owls' territory.  Native to the eastern US, they began to expand their range west of the Mississippi, around the turn of the 20th century.  This may have been partially due to human changes in the Great Plains' landscape.  The birds extended across southern Canada and then down the West Coast.  (FWS)

Barred owl - Missouri Department of Conservation
The barred owls are slightly larger, more aggressive and out-compete the smaller species for territory and food and even kill them on occasion.  They will eject the spotted owl pair from their nesting site in a tree cavity, impairing mating that year.  Interestingly, they are closely enough related that they will occasionally interbreed, producing "sparred owl" offspring, neither spotted or barred.  Their plumage, calls and probably their instincts are mixed, interfering with their breeding. (

Fast forward 15 years and a local battle rages.  There has been a call for drastic measures to decrease or eliminate the barred owl from this foreign territory.  Trapping and transporting barred owls is expensive and inefficient, leading to a program of shooting them.  As you can imagine this has caused a lot conflict between the barred and spotted fans.  There is a report on this battle on NPR.

Some of the research is covered in Smithsonian Magazine in 2009.

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