The Spotted Owl, Strix occidentalis, is a species of owl. It is a resident species of forests in western North America, where it nests in tree holes, old bird of prey nests, or rock crevices. Nests can be between 13 and 66 yards (12 to 60 meters) high and usually contain two eggs (though some will contain as many as four). It is a strictly nocturnal owl, which feeds on small mammals and birds.
This owl has a length of 43 cm (17 inches), a wingspan of 114 cm (45 inches), and a weight of around 600 g (21 ounces). Its eggs are a little over 2 inches (50 millimeters) long, and are white and smooth with a slightly grainy texture. The female sits on the eggs and cares for the young, while the male provides food for them.
The three sub-species of Strix occidentalis are Strix occidentalis caurina (Northern Spotted Owl), Strix occidentalis occidentalis (California Spotted Owl), and Strix occidentalis lucida (often referred to as the Mexican Spotted Owl). The Gila Wilderness is home to the largest population of the Mexican sub-species.
The Spotted Owl is similar in appearance to the Barred Owl but has cross-shaped markings on the underparts whereas the Barred Owl is alternately barred on the breast and streaked on the belly. Barred Owls are larger and grayer than Spotted Owls. In recent years the California and Northern subspecies of Spotted Owl have been displaced by Barred Owls, which are more aggressive, have a broader diet and occur in more varied habitats. Though the two species may hybridize in areas where displacement is occurring, they are quite genetically distinct, for example, differing 13.9% in certain gene sequences.
The Northern and Mexican spotted owl populations currently have endangered status in the United States, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The Northern Spotted Owl is in rapid decline with about a 7% annual population loss along the northern edge of its range (northern Washington state and south-western British Columbia). Less than 30 breeding pairs remain in British Columbia, and the species is expected to be extirpated from Canada within the next few years .
The California spotted owl is not considered to be threatened nor endangered by the USFWS, however, it considered to be a species of special concern by the state of California and the United States Forest Service (USFS).
All subspecies of the spotted owl are often the subject of disagreement between conservationists and loggers, cattle grazers, developers, and other organizations whose activities can affect forest cover. In February 2008, a federal judge reinforced a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to designate 8,600,000 acres (34,800 km2) in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico as critical habitat for the owl. The decision had been challenged by the Arizona Cattle Growers' Association, but Judge Susan Bolton upheld the designation. According to the Center for Biological diversity, "Having critical habitat will ensure that U.S. Forest Service logging does not limit the bird's recovery or drive it into extinction."
S. o. lucida