Around one thousand spotted owls once called the Indigenous lands now known as British Columbia home. They flew through the mossy and misty forests of the Coast Salish, St’át’imc, and Nlaka’pamux peoples who honoured and revered their existence in the balance of the land.
Each First Nations community has their own connection to the spotted owl, but these connections run deep in their hearts, teachings, and traditions.
When Indigenous people see an owl, they believe an ancestor is speaking to them and sending a message. They are “messengers” for the health of the forest. While some commonly call these beings “owls,” each nation has its own traditional name for its flighted relatives.
In Western science, people say that spotted owls are an “indicator” and “umbrella” species because their health reflects the health of the forest and protecting them protects a whole ecosystem. This understanding of the spotted owl's role has been embraced by Indigenous communities for generations.
ARTIFICIAL INCUBATIONArtificial incubation allows us to closely monitor the humidity, temperature, and rotations of the eggs in a controlled and clean environment. When spotted owls start laying eggs in March, staff switch them out for “dummy” eggs that the female keeps warm while her eggs are artificially incubated. This respectful transition helps maintain a connection between the female and a future chick, and allows the female to continue her natural behaviours. Staff monitor the development of each egg by “candling” with a flashlight to see the internal structures and adjust incubator settings according to the needs of each egg. By replicating the nurturing conditions that female spotted owls provide, we reduce the risk of breakage and optimize their chances of hatching successfully.
DOUBLE CLUTCHINGDouble clutching maximizes the reproductive potential of each owl while respecting their natural, annual breeding patterns. In the wild, female spotted owls typically only lay 1-3 eggs every spring in a single group or clutch. If a nest fails due to predation or disease, the female will re-nest if there is enough food and time left in the season. We simulate this by artificially incubating all the eggs from the first clutch and creating the opportunity for the female to lay another 1-3 eggs. Double clutching can double the number of eggs, offers new pairs more time to bond successfully, and recognizes the resilience and adaptability of spotted owls.
HAND-RAISINGSpotted owl chicks are hand-raised by trained staff for approximately 10-14 days. Chicks are altricial (born helpless, requiring significant care) and incredibly vulnerable in the first days of their life, so hand-raising allows us to monitor them 24/7, track their growth, and provide care to any struggling or sick individuals. To foster a chick's connection with the land and its relatives, chicks are housed with owl puppets or similarly aged chicks with spotted owl vocalizations and nature sounds playing in the background. Once chicks are strong and healthy, they are returned to a nest so that parent owls can raise the chicks and instill their lifelong teachings. Female spotted owls that are sitting on dummy eggs accept chicks regardless of their age or biological connection. Spotted owls have an innate instinct to care for their young relatives. New families are monitored remotely using our nest cameras. We monitor when a chick is being fed, interactions between a chick and its parents, and developmental milestones - all with minimal disturbance to the owls and their way of life.
British Columbia consists of 200+ recognized First Nation communities with more than 35 First Nation languages, representing more than half of all First Nation languages in Canada. Just as each community has its unique language and heritage, each species of owl has distinct and diverse vocalizations. For spotted owls, over 13 different kinds of hoots, whistles, chittles, honks, and barks have been identified. Females have higher-pitched voices than males. Each sound carries different meanings across the forest, from signalling a potential nest site to their partner to warning and defending a territory.
Indigenous identity and traditions are intricately connected with cedar, a pillar in old-growth forests for spotted owls. Ancient, hollowed trees provide shelter for bears as winter dens, nurse logs for new plants, and nest sites for birds like the spotted owl. Traditional medicines grow at the base of the ancient cedars, a gift since time immemorial for all people to share, respect, and care for.
Indigenous people believe cedar trees hold the spirit of past ancestors, standing strong and being witness to generations of time. They use cedar for carving canoes, totem poles, face masks, rattles, paddles, tools, clothing, cleansing, or blessing for traditional healing. Northern spotted owls primarily nest in western red cedar and Douglas fir. All the owls at the NSOBP nest in stumps filled with cedar mulch gathered and prepared by our staff.
The significance of the spotted owl goes beyond scientific data.
Recognizing the history, stewardship, and cultural connections is key to understanding their entire story and struggles.
Through consultation and mutual understanding, we can more holistically support their recovery and appreciate the role of spotted owls for other wildlife, forests, and people. The First Peoples’ Map of BC is a great resource where you can learn more about Indigenous languages, arts, and cultural heritage.