Northern Spotted Owl Wildlife Conservation Program
Strix occidentalis caurina
By 2002, concerns had been registered by biologists and conservationists about the plight of the Northern Spotted Owl in British Columbia, since over the years, local populations had experienced dramatic population declines year after year. By 2007, there was deep concern that if something was not done very quickly, there would not be any breeding pairs of Northern Spotted Owls left in the forests of British Columbia by that next spring. Threatened by extinction due to logging and habitat destruction, plus competition for what little habitat there is by other wildlife such as the Barred Owl, this rare raptor was in dire need of immediate, substantive protection.
A Call to Action
B.C.’s Ministry of the Environment started searching for very large, natural habitats with associated conservation facilities, experienced keepers and staff to take care of a new conservation program for the Northern Spotted Owls. After a search for facilities, a program agreement (MOU) was signed with Mountain View and we started work immediately to build a special owl habitat deep in our forest area. Mountain View Conservation was able to complete the first and largest natural raptor habitat for captive breeding of Spotted Owls that existed anywhere. It is about the size of a football field and comprises nine large connected “aviaries” with a connected central free ‘flyway’ and natural hunting area that encourages the natural instincts and behaviour amongst the paired owls and their fledglings.
The Northern Spotted Owl Habitat
Let’s take a look at this impressive complex. Designed in 2007, by the conservation team led by Gord Blankstein & Vince Beier of the Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Centre Society, Ian Blackburn & Joel Gillis of the B.C. Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, plus consulting with many leading Owl Conservation experts from across Canada and the United States. built the new Northern Spotted Owl Habitat. The Aviary Complex, situated in the forest area of our Conservatory, is as large as a football field, with their interior flyway alone being 100 x 60 x 25′ (150,000 square feet!), plus 9 large aviaries measuring 25 x 40 x 16′ (1,600 square feet each), for a total overall space, including keeper walkways and an electrified exterior perimeter fence, of over 750,000 square feet. The Spotted Owl’s facility will not be available for public viewing as these animals need a highly secure, quiet and healthy environment. Disease would be devastating and that is why Mountain View has maintains a rigid protocol that restricts even the activities of staff and keepers from interacting to much with the owls. Our keepers feed the owls and their chicks a natural diet that includes mice so the young ones can learn from their parents how to hunt for the right foods.
The first Owls arrive
On July 29th, 2007 Mountain View acquired our first Northern Spotted Owl, a male named Skye. Northern Spotted owls are the most endangered bird in British Columbia with the entire wild population believed to be less than 20.
The first Owls to arrive were placed in special quarantine facilities at the Centre while the main habitat was constructed and filled with natural flora similar to the old growth forest areas where the Owls traditionally live.
A Northern Spotted Owlet is born into the breeding program
Spring 2008, saw us cautiously hopeful that the four Northern Spotted Owls brought to us by the British Columbia Government’s Ministry of the Environment wildlife researchers, would result in the display of a least some pair bonding behaviour. Excitement grew in May, when our cameras that were in their barn enclosures, showed that the birds had other ideas. One pair laid an unfertile egg and the other pair had a chick! The parent pair have a special story. The female had been on her own in captivity for 13 years at a rehabilitation center before she was sent to us. A severe wing injury had prevented her from being re-introduced to the wild. Sent to us late in 2007, we paired her with a juvenile that biologists speculated was too young to breed. This pairing was intended to be an exercise for both to get used to each other and practice pair bonding behaviour. They did very well in this exercise. So well in fact, that on May 28th, they hatched a female chick!
Our cameras gave us an invaluable eye into their behaviour. The male did everything he was supposed to do. He brought food to the female when she was on the nest and brought food to the chick when it needed to be fed. The female was a fabulous mother, also feeding the chick as needed and sitting diligently on it, until there was no longer room for her to do so. The fluffy white fledgling grew quickly and soon it appeared bigger than it’s parents. She has now lost her fluffy down and looks just like any other adult Spotted Owl. Before long, she will be released into the large flight pen we have specially designed for these owls. This immediate success was immensely encouraging.
In 2009, two more chicks appeared and we received more pairs of Owls from the wild.
We inaugurated our OwlCam today, so that you can visit a pair of Spotted Owls named Shakai and Einstein at Mountain View during daytime. Type http://126.96.36.199 into your browser and register as user ‘guest’ and password ‘guest’. Meanwhile, work continued to complete the facilities supporting the Main Owl Habitat out in the forest area here at Mountain View and we looked forward to finishing the rest of the work needed to get the recovery program operating.
In 2010, despite some very promising behaviour on the part of all our bonded pairs of Owls, no chicks arrived. This is a natural occurance, Northern Spotted Owl do not have eggs every year. We will have to wait until spring 2011. Continuing work in late 2010, the Ministry brought in a science-mobile in order to provide close-up care for the owls. Keepers could now service the forest habitat complex from this science-mobile and store all the necessary equipment and supplies that were needed on a daily basis. Several mated pairs were moved out to the main forest habitat, with only one pair still in the main barn. That pair became famous as the new Owl Cam was placed in their enclosure and monitored closely. Eventually we will be placing cameras in every habitat and the main flyway so that we can better monitor their progress.
2011 was a very long winter and spring, the Owls managed to produce several eggs. However, no live fledglings emerged and we continued our work to complete the facilities needed for the next winter and spring breeding season of 2012. Four additional aviaries were built out the forest areas, and an additional 6 aviaries were built attached to the main barn where the main hatching and incubation rooms are situated. Presently, most of the bonded pairs of Owls are living out in their large aviaries, so large that even the keepers sometimes have a hard time seeing where they are, so well do they merge into the specially prepared habitats. We look forward to seeing them featured on our new Owl cams and we will be sure to share their progress with conservationists and ornithologists everywhere.
For the 2012 season, the weather has been a little better and we were successful in that the Owls laid 10 eggs, with three emerging successfully from their shells. The outcome was that only one fledgling survived, and is now thriving out in the forest aviaries of Mountain View with all the other Owls. That makes thirteen Owls in the program here at Mountain View Conservation, in contrast to only one known breeding pair in the wilds of B.C. Our plan is to raise more Owls and return bonded pairs back into the wild, starting with the protected forests in the Fraser Canyon. Traditionally, there were about 500 pairs in the wild, so it will take us many years to start re-building their populations in B.C.
We are now into the 2013 season. Spring is early this year, so we are again hopeful that this year will bring us more eggs and some more surviving fledglings. Stay tuned for more news in the weeks to come.
We thank you for your continuing support of the Northern Spotted Owl Program.
Adopt a Northern Spotted Owl and help save our Owls!
Click here to Donate: Adopt a Northern Spotted Owl
Up to 15 years in the wild; longer in captivity.
Southwestern mainland of British Columbia to Northern California, USA.
Height: Approx. 45cm (18in), length: Approx. 45cm (18in)
1-2lb (454g–1kg) Males are smaller than the females.
Old-growth and mature forests.
Maturity is reached at 2 years old. Pairs are monogamous. Female owls produce 2 juveniles on average every 2 years, usually in April. In British Columbia, there is a 95% mortality rate of juveniles due primarily to predation by Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls and other birds of prey.
Small rodents (such as the flying squirrel), mice, rabbits, hares, birds and insects.
- Northern Spotted Owls are silent flyers and relatively long-lived birds. They are also territorial, non-migrating, and nocturnal but they may forage opportunistically during the day.
- Sub-adult owls (1-2 years old) usually join groups of non-territorial “floater” owls which look for un-inhabited areas to live in.
- Their ears are off-set on their heads with one higher on one side and lower on the other to help pinpoint the location of prey at night.
- Their eyes do not move but they are capable of turning their heads around more than 270 degrees and back again.
- They return to the same snag ever year.
- Males can breed as young as 1 year of age.
- Females do all of the egg incubation while males provide her food until after the chicks have hatched. The male rarely eats during incubation and he continues to bring them food until fledging occurs.
- NORTHERN SPOTTED OWLS are the rarest bird in British Columbia. These Owls are now listed as a critically endangered species and our most important Conservation Program at Mountain View. Since 2007, we have been working with B.C. Ministry of Natural Resources, Lands and Forests, to help save this species. This kind of intensive breeding and recovery program can take many decades to rebuild the numbers in the wild.
The Northern Spotted Owl Program Partnership
The Northern Spotted Owl Program is expected to run for about twenty years in order to assure a sustainable owl population in British Columbia. Mountain View Conservation started the program in 2007 by building the first Northern Spotted Owl facility out of its own funds, relying upon revenues from guided educational tours, adoptions, donations, community sponsorships and an annual fund-raising event in order to financially support the capital expenditures and operational funding of the program.
Today, the program is operated in partnership with B.C.’s Ministry of Natural Resources, who provide funding to monitor the Owls, provide experienced wildlife biologists and scientists, and are building incubation facilities with operational funding in order to help develop and secure the science of saving this very special Northern Spotted Owl species from extinction in British Columbia. For its part, Mountain View built the original forest Aviary Complex, the supporting infrastructure, maintains these facilities, provides daily keeper care and monitoring year-round and also feeds all the Owls on a daily basis.�
We raise specially bred mice to live feed the Owls, and have developed an internship program that assist the Ministry staff in the monitoring of the behaviour of this critically endangered specie of B.C. Owl.
To help us in our work, please donate to our Society.
Click here to Donate: Adopt a Northern Spotted Owl
It wouldn’t be possible for Mountain View Conservation to continue its hosting of Wildlife Recovery Programs without your supporting donations! We need your help. Please continue to support this extremely important work. You can help now by Clicking the ‘Canada Helps’ logo to donate securely online. All donations will receive a Federal Tax Receipt. Thank you!
The Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Program is operated in partnership with the B.C. Provincial Government’s Ministry of Natural Resources, Lands and Forests.