The Spotted Owl rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s because its preferred coniferous forest habitats were being impacted by logging of the valuable mature timber. Spotted Owls became the symbol of the controversy over logging, but were just one species out of an entire ecosystem being affected. Three subspecies exist, including the Northern, Californian, and Mexican Spotted Owls.
Spotted Owls are very territorial, and this behavior is used for surveying for them, because they usually respond to recorded or imitated vocalizations. Spotted Owls do not necessarily breed every year, and some birds do not breed for several years in a row.
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Description of the Spotted Owl
The Spotted Owl has brownish upperparts, brownish underparts spotted with white, and dark eyes.
The sexes are similar.
Seasonal change in appearance
Juveniles resemble adults, but are fluffier and grayer.
Spotted Owls inhabit mature, old-growth forests.
Spotted Owls primarily eat small mammals.
Spotted Owls forage primarily at night, watching for prey from a perch and swooping down to capture it.
Spotted Owls are resident in parts of the western and southwestern U.S. They are also found in Mexico. The population has declined.
Spotted Owls are often quite tame when located.
The Spotted Owl became a symbol, some would say a scapegoat, in the debate over protecting old growth forests versus logging them.
The song is a rhythmic series of hoot and barks.
- Barred Owls have barred chests and streaked underparts.
The Spotted Owl’s nest is typically placed in a hollow tree, cliff crevice, or in an old hawk nest.
Number: Usually lay 2 eggs.
Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 28-32 days, and begin to leave the nest in about another 35 days, though continuing to associate with the adults for some time.
Bent Life History of the Spotted Owl
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Spotted Owl – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
CALIFORNIA SPOTTED OWL
STRIX OCCIDENTALIS OCCIDENTALIS (Xantus)HABITS
The spotted owl was discovered by Xantus, one of the pioneer naturalists of the Pacific coast, on March 6, 1858, and named by him on the basis of a single specimen, collected near Fort Tejon, Calif., in the southern Sierra Nevadas. This specimen remained unique until Major Bendire (1892) found the Arizona form of this species, near Tucson, in 1872. I believe it was not seen again in California until 1882, when Lyman Belding (1890) found it “common at Big Trees, Calaveras County, and vicinity in summer, and perhaps in winter.” He collected a pair there on June 13, 1882, and says: “It frequents the densest parts of the fir forests.”
The earlier writers knew practically nothing about this species for many years after its discovery; only in recent years have we learned anything of its life history and habits. The range of the species is now known to extend north to southern British Columbia, south to northern Lower California, and east to New Mexico and central Mexico. Throughout this range four races have been described; the 1931 Check-List recognizes only three of these, as they appear in this bulletin; Dr. H. C. Oberholser (1915) would recognize only two of these; after a study of a series of 31 specimens, from various parts of the range of the species, he concluded that the northern race should not be separated from the California race.
The spotted owl is the western representative of the common barred owl of the Eastern States, to which it is closely related and which it resembles in appearance and habits. Its haunts are in the dense coniferous forests and in the more remote and deeply shaded canyons in the mountains. Although generally distributed, it is nowhere common, and, on account of its retiring habits during the day, it is seldom seen; for these reasons it may be commoner than is generally supposed.
Nesting: The only nest of the spotted owl that I have seen has had an interesting history. Laurence G. Peyton (1910) has written the early history of it, telling of its discovery by his father and his brother, Sidney, in May 1908, in Fish Creek Canyon, a tributary of Castaic Canyon, in the northeastern part of Los Angeles County, Calif. There were young in the nest at that time. The Peytons took a set of two eggs from this nest on April 1,1909, and the following year, on March 30, 1910, they took from the same nest a set of three eggs and secured both of the parent birds. The Peytons did not visit this locality again until 1925, when they took a set of two eggs, probably laid by the descendants of the original pair; and again in 1926 they took another set of three eggs, making the fourth set taken from the same old nesting hole, and from at least two pairs of owls. In 1927 and 1928 this locality was visited, but the old cavity was not occupied. In 1929 the Peytons offered to show me the locality on the slight chance that the owls might be there again. This proved to be a successful venture, for we were delighted to see the head of the old owl on the nest as we approached the cliff, on April 1, 1929.
The locality was reached after a 5-mile tramp over a rough trail, which crossed a clear mountain stream many times. The canyon varied greatly in width, from narrow gorges, walled in on one or both sides with high, rocky cliffs, to open wooded valleys, or wide flat parks, or pastures. It was mostly well timbered with oak, cottonwood, willow, sycamore, and alder trees, many of large size; and along the more open, gravelly bed of the stream was a considerable growth of small willows and shrubbery of various kinds. At the picturesque nesting site the stream flowed in a double curve over a stony bed and through a narrow gorge. On the south side of the gorge an almost perpendicular cliff of rough granite rock rose for nearly 200 feet, shutting out the sunlight (pl. 50). On the north side was a steep rocky slope and near the nest was a tall cottonwood tree, the owl’s favorite perch. The nest was in a roomy cavity about 15 feet up from the bottom of the granite cliff; the cavity was nearly three feet deep, and the two eggs lay on a bed of rubbish, bones of small mammals, feathers of the owl, and a lot of pellets.
Donald R. Dickey found a nest in Ventura County, Calif., containing two well-grown young on May 15, 1913, of which W. Leon Dawson (1923) writes: “The situation was an old Raven’s nest, placed 65 feet up in a pothole, on a perpendicular cliff of conglomerate over 200 feet high.” A set in my collection was taken by T. D. Hurd from a “depression in the floor of a small cave, or washout in. a clay bank”, near Riverside, Calif., on April 24, 1886. A set of two eggs in the J. P. Norris collection was taken in the same region by E. M. Haight on May 10, 1885. “The eggs were laid on the bare ground, at the base of a large rock, and the only attempt at nest building was the presence of a few feathers lying around.” Harry H. Dunn (1901) took three sets of eggs from cavities in trees in southern California; one was in an oak stub some 10 feet from the ground on the side of a canyon; the second was “in an old hollow sycamore stub, which had fallen slanting across the creek bed” in Santa Ana canyon; and the third was 20 feet from the ground in a hole in a live oak. Apparently these owls seldom occupy old, open nests of other birds; but there is a set in the Thayer collection, taken by Fred Truesdale, in San Luis Obispo County, from an old hawk’s nest made of oak sticks and weed stalks, 35 feet up in an oak tree, on the edge of a steep canyon.
M. C. Badger writes to me that he has found two nests of spotted owls in nests occupied by Cooper’s hawks, the previous year, in Santa Paula Canyon, Calif., and that he captured a young owl at 6,000 feet elevation on Mount Pifios.
Eggs: The spotted owl lays two or three eggs, usually only two, and very rarely four; one of Mr. Dunn’s sets, referred to above, contained four eggs, and is the only set of this size that I have heard of. The eggs are practically indistinguishable from those of the barred owl, though they average slightly smaller, especially in width. They are pure white and rather oval, and the shell is slightly granulated and not glossy. The measurements of 23 eggs average 49.9 by 41.3 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 53.9 by 43.2, 42.3 by 35.8, and 44.5 by 33.5 millimeters.
Young: Very little seems to be known about the development and behavior of the young. Donald R. Dickey (1914), while taking a fine series of photographs at a nest containing young, noted that at about four o’clock “all the owls had a period of sudden activity. The young came to the edge and tried their wings, hopping and flapping to and fro in the exposed part of the nest hole.” Some three weeks later, when he visited the locality again, he was surprised to find the two young owls and their parent perched in an oak tree some 100 yards from the nest; he says:
That the young could have reached the spot unaided seems incredible, for although the primaries were well grown out, they were, with that exception, in the complete down, and were still weak. The alternative is that the old birds, continuing their distrust of the dangling rope, had deliberately moved them. Certain it is that they would not normally have left the nest perhaps for weeks.
* * * The young were docile, downy little things of a soft grayish and buffy white. They used neither bill nor claw, and the direst threat of the larger bird was a slight parting of the bill as it shrank back from the touch of our hands.
Plumages: I have never seen a small downy young of the spotted owl in the natal down, which is probably pure white, as it is in the barred owl. I have examined the young owl that Mr. Dickey took, which is now in his collection. This bird is nearly fully grown, and the wings and tail are nearly developed, but the body and head are in the secondary down, or first downy plumage. The head and neck are covered with soft, “cream-buff” down; the soft, fluffy feathers of the back are “clay color” to “cinnamon-buff”, with three broad bars of “snuff brown” on each feather; the soft plumage of the under parts is paler, with paler bars; the long, fluffy down on the thighs is creambuff” and immaculate; the wings and tail are as in the adult.
Material is lacking to trace subsequent molts and plumages, but an August bird shows the beginning of the molt from the above juvenal plumage into the first winter plumage, which is apparently much like that of the adult.
Food: Rats and mice of various species seem to be the favorite prey of the spotted owl, wood rats (Ateotoma), white-footed mice (Peromyscue), and the red tree-mouse (Phenacomys), which forages in the forest trees. It also, probably, eats some chipmunks and other small squirrels, other small rodents, and a few birds. Mr. Dawson (1923) says: “Curiously, however, two instances are on record where remains of Pigmy Owls, Glaucidium gnoma, have been found in the stomachs of recently killed Spotted Owls.”
Charles W. Michael (1933) found an interesting collection of pellets under a perching tree, of which he says: “Here we got a big surprise, for scattered through every pellet examined were a number of muskmelon seeds. Other identified particles contained in the pellets were egg shells, apparently hen’s egg shells, hair from a ground squirrel, small mammal bones, and other bones that looked like bits of bone from a pork or mutton chop. As the owl flies, it is just about half a mile to the bear feeding platforms where owls could get such things as egg shells, melon seeds, and mutton chops.’~
Behavior: The spotted owl is a decidedly nocturnal species, seldom moving about in the daytime unless disturbed. It spends the day sleeping quietly in some shady retreat, and, if forced to move, it will fly only a short distance to some other perch and promptly close its eyes and go to sleep again.
It is one of the tamest, or one of the stupidest, of the owls, as my experience with the Arizona bird and the following quotations will show. About its nest it is extremely gentle and shows only a mild interest, even when there are young to be defended. Mr. Dickey (1914) writes: “As we climbed to the young in the oak the old bird displayed her first sign of vital interest, flying within touch of the intruding heads and peering at us from close perches among the branches. But her passes at us were not fearsome things. She never even snapped her bill. Silently she swooped near, rather in an effort to see plainly, or decoy, than to harm or frighten us.” Again, while he was at the nest, he says:
As I hung there, studying at first hand the nest of the Spotted Owl, there came a last evidence of the bird’s mild stupidity. Suddenly the shadow of her broad, silent wings fell across me, and I instinctively cringed. While I still clung to the nesting ledge with one hand, and to her protesting young with the other, she swept in and alit within eighteen inches of my fingers. And yet, so little of menace was in her eye and pose, that I calmly left my bare hand within striking distance until we were ready to lower away. Surely the veriest dicky-bird of them all,: * * * would do more to avenge the supposed rape of her offspring than did this taloned bird of prey, sitting idly by without apparently the courage to protect its young by fight, or the common sense to protect itself by flight.
The same observer, watching the owl at her toilet, says:
Contorting herself into every conceivable position she shook her feathers into perfect place and carefully preened away every frayed feather tip. There was something ludicrous in her every action. Even in the midst of her tollet there were sudden periods when Morpheus seemed to overpower her and she would doze off, only to awake with a start a few moments later and continue the performance. Her movements were much more gentle than those of the horned owls. The lack of their ear tufts and yellow irides also gave her a far more agreeable expression, although I must confess that certain startled expressions,: when one did succeed in startling her,: seemed unpleasantly lynx-like. When she moved along a limb her every movement suggested a parrot, really a striking resemblance.
Grinnell and Storer (1924) write:
In the late afternoon of July 23, 1920, on a wooded ridge-slope near Bower Cave, Mr. Donald D. McLean found himself within hearing of a clamour of bird voices. Following the clue he worked cautiously up the slope and discovered the center of the disturbance to be a spotted owl which was perched in an incense cedar, close to the trunk on a branch about 60 feet above the ground. The throng of excited birds included 19 Blue-fronted Jays, 5 or 6 California Jays, half a dozen California Woodpeckers, one Sierra Creeper, and many Cassin, Hutton, and Warbling Vireos, Black-throated Gray Warblers, and Western Flycatehers.
Voice: The same authors say of the calls, as beard in the Yosemite:
The notes were never given until late dusk; for example, on June 7 at 7:50 p.m..; on June23 at 8:00; on July 24 at 7:32; on July 28 at 7:30; on October23 at 5:25; and on November 18 at 5:10. It will be observed that these hours closely accord in the changing seasons with a certain degree of darkness. * * * These notes differed from those of any other owl of the region, in that they were abrupt rather high-pitched calls, in tone like the distant barking of a dog: whii’, whfi’; whis. The first two were loudest. There was no suggestion of the deep intonation of the Pacific Horned Owl.
Frank Stephens (1892) writes: “The ordinary notes heard were a succession of three syllables, alike in tone and volume, the first followed quickly by the second and then a pause of considerable length before the bird: hoo, hoo,: hoo. The other series of notes is different and has a curious canine quality of tone; they were usually four, uttered rather rapidly, becoming emphatic toward the end, and may be represented by the formula: oh, oo, ou, ow.”
Mr. Dickey (1914) mentions “a low, indrawn whistle, ‘Whee e with a sharp rising inflection”, uttered repeatedly as she circled back from the nest to her perch, perhaps as a warning to the young, though they paid no attention to it. “Soon came the deep ‘Whoo, whoo, who, who’ of the other parent from far up the mountain.” Again he says: “She also gave vent at this time to an utterly indescribable, turkey like chuckle. Finally she hooted, but so low that it sounded like a dove, ‘Coo’, coo’, coo, coo.’ * * * It probably will not hold as an invariable rule, but it is at least interesting that every time either adult hooted, they used the indicated arrangement of two long and two short notes.”
Field marks: A large, round-faced bird, without ear tufts and with large, spectral black eyes, the spotted owl cannot be mistaken for any other western owl. The brown plumage, conspicuously spotted with white both above and below, is distinctive; this color pattern produces an excellent camouflage, helping to conceal the inactive bird among the flickering lights and shadows of the forest foliage. It differs from other owls too in its tameness and apparent stupidity, which makes it an easy bird to observe at short range.
Range: Southwestern British Columbia and Western United States and Mexico. Non migratory.
The range of the spotted owl extends north to southern British Columbia (Mount Lehman, Chilliwack, and the Hope Mountains); northern Arizona (Grand Canyon National Park); and northern New Mexico (Water Canyon and Santa Fe Mountains). East to New Mexico (Santa Fe Mountains, Manzano Mountains, San Mateo Mountains, and Sacramento Mountains); western Texas (McKittrick Canyon); Guanajuato (Guanajuato); and Michoacan (Mount Tancitaro). South to Michoacan (Mount Tancitaro); southern Arizona (Paradise, Huachuca Mountains, and the Santa Rita Mountains); and southern California (Mount Smith and Palomar Mountain). West to California (Palomar Mountain, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Mount Tamalpais, Bohemia, Ferndale, Eureka, and Shakleford Creek); Oregon (Siuslaw River in Lane County, probably Scio, and probably Netarts); Washington (Ohanapecosh Hot Springs, Tacoma, Kirkland, and Mount Vernon); and southwestern British Columbia (Mount Lehman).
Casual records: One was reported as seen on August 10, 1922, ten miles west of Glacier National Park, Mont. The late C. E. H. Aiken reported that one killed near Colorado Springs, Cob., was brought to him about 1875 and that he had seen another in Deadmans Canyon in the same general vicinity during June or July 1878. The disposition of the Aiken specimen is unknown, and, since other Colorado records are not considered satisfactory, the inclusion of this species in the bird list of that State rests on slender evidence. All records for spotted owls in Baja California are too indefinite for serious consideration.
Egg dates: California: 15 records, March 1 to May 10; 8 records, March 27 to April 1, indicating the height of the season.
Arizona and New Mexico: 4 records, April 4 to 17.
NORTHERN SPOTTED OWL
STRIX OCCIDENTALIS CAURINA (Merriam)
Authorities differ somewhat as to the validity of this dark, humid coast race of the spotted owl. The 1931 Check-List refers to it the spotted owls that breed along the Northwest coast region, from southern British Columbia to Mann County, Calif. Dr. H. C. Oherholser (1915) thinks that it is not separable from typical occidentalis from southern California. He says:
Specimens from California prove beyond reasonable doubt that Strix occidentalis caurina is a synonym of Strix occidentalis occidentalis, for all its peculiarities are to be found among these California birds. Many of the specimens of Strix occidentalis lucida from Arizona and New Mexico are fully as dark above as Strix occidentalis caurina, and some are even darker; several are as dark below, with nearly the same amount of ochraceous suffusion posteriorly, and with practically an equal amount of mottling on the legs and feet. In the reduction of light markings on the upper surface the type of Strix occide,stalis caurina may be closely matched in all respects by some of the California birds, as well as by the type of Strix occidentalis occidentalis. Moreover, the type of Strix occidentalis occidentelis Is an old, formerly mounted specimen, and is considerably faded and apparently otherwise discolored. Another southern California example is actually identical with the type of Strix occidentalis caurina, except for being darker. There is thus no distinctive character left for the recognition of Strix occidentalis caurina as a subspecies.
Although Dr. Oberholser examined the type of caurina, it was the only specimen he had from the Northwest coast region; moreover, it was a summer bird and probably was somewhat worn and faded. The material that I have examined, 10 birds from California and 4 from the Northwest coast, shows that the characters given for caurina are constant and fairly well marked. Dr. C. Hart Merriam (1898), in naming this race, gave it the following characters:
Similar to S. occidentalis but everywhere darker. In general the white spots and markings are smaller; the dark areas larger and darker. This is especially noticeable on the head and back where the white spotting is reduced to a minimum. The dark markings on the side, of the breast, flanks and feet are very much darker and more extensive than in occidentalis. But perhaps the most striking difference is on the wings. The primaries are not only very much darker but the broad whitish tips have disappeared and are represented by an indistinct pale band mixed with a little whitish on the outer side of the vane and on some of the feathers a faint whitish terminal edging. The three or four pale bars nearest the tips of the feathers are also obsolescent.
On May 10, 1911, a dark, rainy day, while collecting birds near Kirkland, Wash., across the lake from Seattle, I was fortunate enough to secure a fine specimen of this rare owl. Squeaking to call up any small birds that might be within hearing, I was standing in a little open space in a dense forest of giant firs, in the midst of which stood a lone dead fir. Alter a few extra loud squeaks, I was surprised to see a large owl fly from the dense shade of the forest and alight on the dead tree, looking for the expected prey. The owl paid no attention to me and was easily secured. My companion, Rob II. Beck, obtained two other specimens in the same way. I have no doubt that this owl is much commoner in the heavy coniferous forests of that region than is generally supposed; but few specimens have been taken there, and none of my Washington friends has been able to find a nest. So far as I know the nest of the northern race has never been found.
The only published note I can find on the behavior or voice of this owl is the following by C. I. Clay (1911):
Soon after darkness fell over our camp, we were attracted by an odd, nerve-racking noise. It would start with a kind of long-drawn out whining, gradually increasing to a more grating sound, which gave rise to uncertain thoughts, as to its source. It first seemed on the hill-side across the creek, then came nearer, all the while increasing in distinctness, and finally seemed to be double, with ever increasing loudness, until the woods seemed uncanny. My curiosity was aroused to a nervous pitch, and I found it hard to induce my wife to follow me with a paper torch. * * * After following in the direction of the noise for some little distance, I located the ghostly racket nearly over my head in a large maple tree. The noise never ceased, but was continually repeated; and save the smooth branches, sparingly tipped with rustling leaves, as they swayed under the strain of the gentle night breeze, nothing could be seen except the twinkling blue background. Finally, I remarked, “It’s an owl.” A spread of wings was plainly visible now, and right on a bare limb, not over three feet above my bead, sat an inquisitive owl with craning neck. Then came another from higher up and perched beside the first. They were attracted by the light, and sat there stretching their necks, with as much curiosity as I had shown, at the sound of a noise that seemed almost panther-like.”
MEXICAN SPOTTED OWL
STRIX OCCIDENTALIS LUCIDA (Nelson)
Based on a single specimen from “the forested mountains about the southern end of the Mexican tableland (above 6,500 feet)”, Dr. E. W. Nelson (1903) described the Mexican spotted owl as “darker and with much less yellowish buffy suffusion throughout than in S. occidentalis; white markings larger and clearer white.” He says further: “The shade of brown in S. o. lucidum approaches more nearly to that of S. o. caurinum than to that of typical occidentale, yet owing to the greater intensity of the buffy suffusion and the small size of the white spots on both upper and under parts of S. o. caurinum it is much more distinct from lucidum than is occidentale.”
Some time later Harry S. Swarth (1910b) discovered that the Arizona bird is distinct from the California bird and named the former S. a. huachucae, based also on a single specimen; he described it as “similar to Strix occidentalis occidentalis (Xantus), but slightly smaller, and conspicuously paler; white markings more extensive and dark areas less deep toned.” He says further: “The spotted owls from southern California are about intermediate in color between the very pale Arizona race (huachucae) and the very dark, northwest coast form (caurinus), though somewhat nearer the latter.” Still later Dr. H. C. Oberholser (1915) finds that the Mexican bird and the Arizona bird are identical, and, as the former description has priority, the name for this race becomes lucida. It is interesting to note, in the above descriptions, that, in what we now consider as one race, the Mexican bird was described as darker and the Arizona bird as lighter than the California bird. This may be explained by Dr. Oberholser’s statement that “our investigation has resulted, furthermore, in the interesting discovery that there are two well-marked color phases in Strix occidentalis, the lighter of which is of comparatively rare occurrence.” The most reliable character by which the races can be distinguished seems to be the number, size, and whiteness of the spots; one extreme exists in the northern bird (caurina) and one in the Mexico-Arizona bird (lucida), the California bird being strictly intermediate. As it seems unwise to recognize intermediates in nomenclature, the author agrees with Dr. Oberholser that there should be but two races named; as the California bird is nearer to the Northwest coast bird than to the Mexican bird, it should be included with it under the name occidentalis, which has priority over caurina. The evidence presented under the discussion of the northern race does not alter the fact that the California bird is an intermediate and that there should be but one name for the birds now called occidentalis and caurina.
Mr. Swarth (1910b) says that this owl “is possibly quite generally distributed through the higher mountain ranges of Arizona, though the published records of its occurrence are but very few and rather unsatisfactory.” His specimen was taken in the Huachuca Mountains “on Sutherland’s ranch, near the mouth of Cave Cafion, on the west side of the mountains at an altitude of approximately 5,500 feet. Others were observed at various points in the range up to about 9,000 feet, usually in dense clumps of maples in the creek beds, or in the thickets of quaking aspen.~~
J. Stokiey Ligon (1926) says that, in New Mexico, “the favored haunts of the bird are deep, narrow, timbered canons where there are always cool shady places, at elevations ranging from 6,500 to 9,000 feet. They are usually to be found sitting in young spruce or fir trees or in a cave or crevice in the shaded canyon wall; cliffs and caves being one of the range requirements of the birds in the region referred to. They may be observed in the quietest and most inaccessible mountain sections. The birds are very often seen sitting twenty or thirty feet from the ground on a small horizontal limb near the trunk of a spruce or fir.”
Nesting: To Major Bendire (1892) belongs the honor of discovering the first nest of this owl, near Whipples Station, Ariz., on April 17, 1872, of which he writes:
My attention was first drawn to the nest by one of my men, who noticed a bird sitting on it. Rapping on the trunk of the tree it flew into the branches of another close by, from which I shot it. * * * The nest appeared to me to be a new one, built by the birds themselves; it was about 30 feet from the ground and placed in a fork close to the trunk of a large and bushy cottonwood tree standing in the midst of a dense grove of younger trees of the same species. It was composed of sticks, twigs, and the dry inner bark of the cottonwood, lined with some dry grasses and a few feathers. The inner cavity was about 2 inches deep, and the nest itself about the size of that of the larger Hawks. It was readily seen from below, but not so easily observed a little distance away, the foliage of the tree hiding it pretty effectually.
0. C. Poling wrote to him: “I discovered a nest and four newly hatched young of the Spotted Owl in the foothills among the oaks at the northern end of the Huachuca Mountains in Arizona. This was on May 23, 1890. Both parents were close to the nest and took little notice of me as I approached close to them. The nest was simply a large cavity in an oak about 10 feet from the ground.”
Mr. Ligon (1926) has found several nests in New Mexico; he writes:
On April 4, 192~, I located the first nest containing eggs; this nest was in the entrance of a cave, about which pine and fir trees grew, on the south side of a steep canyon. The cave faced the north, insuring perpetual shade, and had an opening about thirty-five feet high, forming a large circular room forty feet in depth. The nest, which was an old one reconstructed, was situated on a shelf about four feet wide and thirty feet from the floor of the cave on the east side of the entrance. The overhanging roof of the cave and the perpendicular wall on the side concealed the nest from above and only by the use of an improvised ladder could it be reached from below. It was constructed of pine limbs and twigs and some small clusters of dead pine needles, and three feet or more in diameter. The cavity was about three inches deep and ten inches wide and contained no lining.
The above was probably an old eagle’s or raven’s nest; it contained three eggs (p1. 51). Two days later he: located another nest in a narrow box canon, the southern slope of which, wherever there was footing, supported a rather thick growth of young fir, fifty to seventy five feet high. I knew this particular place to be an Owl haunt and also knew there were some old nests in the caves and crevices of the canyon wall. I investigated several old nests but none of these showed signs of having been used this season; however, up in a narrow cave or rent, which penetrated well back into the cliff that stood behind the evergreens was evidence that the Owls were inhabiting the place. An old nest in the cave was inspected and as I was about to leave it, I discovered at the entrance of the cave, about twenty-five feet up in the side wall to my left, projecting sticks and a few clinging feathers in a natural cavity or pocket. * * * The cavity, which could not have been more suitable if made to order, was just large enough to permit of the construction of the nest, about three feet high and three feet wide on the inside, with a little smaller entrance. This nest, which was perpetually shaded, was an old one with little indication that it had recently been repaired. * * *
On April 10, in the same mountains, a third nest was found in a dense abnormal growth of Douglas fir, generally termed “witch limbs” and common among the trees in this region. * * * I had suspected that the Spotted Owl nested in the “witch limbs” of Douglas fir, as such examples of tree growth were often noted where the Owls were seen. The tree in question was 16 inches in diameter at the base with no limbs below the mass that encircled it fifteen feet or more from the ground. * * * After some difficulty I climbed to the nest but found that the bird had not laid, although she was reconstructing what was evidently a nest that had been used before. * * * On April 12, I visited this nest again and found it contained one egg.
Eggs: Mr. Ligon (1926) says of the three eggs that be collected: “They are dull white with a very faint tinge of buff, shell faintly roughened, with no glaze apparent. The eggs are rounded ovate in shape and the measurements are 50.1 by 40.6, 49.9 by 41,5, and 48.0 by 40.6 millimeters.” He also says that Bendire’s egg “exhibits the same faint tinge of buff as those from the San Mateo Mountains, New Mexico. * * * The lack of gloss in all these specimens is especially noticeable when they are compared with series of the Barred Owl.” Bendire’s egg measures 52 by 45.5 millimeters.
Food: T he food of this owl is similar to that of other spotted owls: rats, mice, and other small rodents, with an occasional small bird. Laurence M. Huey (1932) found that the stomach of one taken in Arizona “was filled to distention with insects”; these were determined by the Biological Survey to consist “entirely of parts of at least 17 noctuid moths of the genus Agrotis.”
Behavior: The habits of this race of spotted owls do not differ materially from those of other races. This owl is apparently just as tame, unsuspicious, curious, or stupid as the California bird. My experience with it in Arizona was characteristic. On May 7, 1922, while walking up the trail toward the summit, through the coniferous forest; at an elevation of about 7,000 feet, in the Huachuca Mountains, we were surprised to see a spotted owl sitting half asleep in a little fir sapling, which stood at the base of a giant fir. It was the first one we had seen and I was anxious to secure it, but we had no gun.
My companion, Frank C. Willard, thought he might be able to creep up behind the tree and knock it over with a club, if I could keep its attention focused on me. This I succeeded in doing by squeaking like a mouse, dancing about or waving my arms. Moving stealthily as an Indian, he made a wide circuit and gradually approached the other side of the tree without being seen; but several times the owl’s keen ears detected his footsteps and looked toward him, when I would motion him to stop until I could again attract the owl’s attention by renewed activity. This game continued until Mr. Willard was close behind the tree; then, reaching around the tree, he struck a sudden blow, and the owl fell to the ground with a broken skull.
Mr. Ligon (1926) says that; “one generally needs nothing more than a stone or stick to kill a Spotted Owl. So fearless or reluctant were they to leave a perch to which they had become attached that by quiet maneuvering I have caught the birds by hand. They appear to fear man no more than they do any other creature and seem more annoyed than frightened when driven from their day abode.”