| Mexican spotted owl|
Strix occidentalis lucida
|Subspecies|| S. o. caurina|
S. o. lucida
S. o. occidentalis
|Population||15,000 (2004 est.)|
|Conservation status||Near threatened|
The spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) is a species of owl found in the forested areas of western North America. Population declines in conjunction with logging have made this bird a poster-child for environmentalist causes, despite the arrival of a competing species which coincided with the decline.
The spotted owl is a medium-sized dark brown bird some 16 to 19 inches in length with a 42-inch wingspan, and weigh up to 1.6 pounds. Females are slightly larger than males. The bird is marked with small, white spots above - hence the name - while its underside is a pattern of white and brown mottling.
- California Spotted Owl, Strix occidentalis occidentalis
- Mexican Spotted Owl, Strix occidentalis lucida
- Northern Spotted Owl, Strix occidentalis caurina
Spotted owls require old growth, dense forest with a closed canopy. In the Pacific northwest the forest consists of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, or other large conifers, while in the southwest they chose pine-oak forests. Nests are previously-occupied raptor nests, squirrel or wood rat nests, or in small caves or ledges within steep-walled canyons.
In the past twenty years liberals have accused loggers on private and public land of posing a significant threat to these birds, as they need old growth forest both as cover and as a hunting area. The species overall is listed as near-threatened by the IUCN Red Data List, with the two subspecies S. o. caurina and S. o. lucida listed as threatened.
What has been ignored by the liberal community was the principle threat to the spotted owl: the arrival of the more-aggressive barred owl (Strix varia), whose original habitat was the forested areas of the eastern United States and Canada, and until the late-1800s it never expanded westward due to the Great Plains. In addition to the lack of trees, current hypothesis suggest this was partially the result of selective burning by Native Americans, which ended with the arrival and expansion of Americans of European ancestry. So-called “habitat bridges” were created across the plains, i.e. trees growing unimpeded by fire, and allowing the barred owl to move into the west. Moving into Canada across the northern plains, they were first observed in British Columbia in 1949; in the following years they were seen in Washington, Oregon, and northern California. A National Park Service report stated they had become established in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, in 2002, and the Redwood National Park.
The arrival of the barred owl to the Pacific northwest has also affected populations of the subspecies S. o. caurina; interbreeding and affecting nesting and hunting patterns to the point where a criticized Federal program to kill barred owls has begun. The one benefit to the program is toxin information; scientists have recently been receiving dead owls of both species to see if their prey animals have picked up toxins from rat poison put out by illicit marijuana growers in public land.