The barred owl is a medium sized owl that is native to Eastern North America and expanded its range into British Columbia over the last 100 years. The barred owl is a generalist species that can thrive in a wide variety of habitats, including old growth coniferous stands. The barred owl is a larger, more aggressive species that will compete for habitat and food with the spotted owl. There have been cases of hybridization between spotted owls and barred owls, as a spotted owl will mate with a barred owl.
The Purpose of the Barred Owl at the NSOBP
Barred and spotted owls are closely related species both physiologically and phylogenetically, as they both belong to the Strix genus. As such closely related species, we can learn a lot about the spotted owl by having the barred owls bred in captivity as well. We currently have one breeding pair of barred owls at the NSOBP that began producing eggs in 2014.
Increase Artificial Incubation Knowledge
The barred owl eggs are run through the exact same incubation process under the same parameters as the spotted owl eggs to help us test our methodologies and refine our techniques. We have learnt a lot about the similarities and differences between the two species.
Barred owl chicks can be used as a stand in for spotted owl chicks to give inexperienced spotted owls the opportunity to raise a chick. We fostered a barred owl chick to a newly formed pair and they immediately took care of the chick. A barred owl chick was given to a female spotted owl that was not pair bonded, and she also cared for the chick. This knowledge gives us more opportunities for returning spotted owl chicks in the future. We no longer have to rely on a select few pairs when we are returning chicks to a nest after the hand-raising process is over. Both sets of foster parents did a great job and proved their readiness for the real thing.
Testing Release Strategies
While practice with barred owl eggs and chicks is important, another reason that we breed them is to see how young owls bred and raised in captivity adapt when released into the wild. Since releasing spotted owls is such a huge component of the species survival plan, and with each and every individual spotted owl being so important to the future success of the species, it is imperative that a release strategy is tested. The young barred owls are raised in captivity with minimal human interference, fitted with a GPS transmitters, and released into carefully selected habitat. The data gathered will provide essential information to give young spotted owls the best possible chance for a successful release.