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Side-by-side comparison of a spotted owl and a barred owl.


As much as we love spotted owls and would like to confirm sightings, the odds of seeing one in the wild unfortunately are slim to none. The spotted owl is one of Canada's most endangered species. The size of old-growth forests needed for this species is no longer found in the Greater Vancouver area, and spotted owls have never existed on Vancouver Island.

Owl sightings near urban or residential forests are not spotted owls. They may be any one of British Columbia's other owl species, but are most likely barred owls.

Every year dozens of people contact us who mistakenly think they have seen a spotted owl. You can learn to identify the owls in your area by understanding the differences in their physical appearance, geographical location and habitat, and sounds.

From the FRONT:

Northern spotted owls have dark chocolate-brown feathers with horizontal white spots (right). Barred owls are light grey with vertical brown stripes or bars, for which they are named (left). Both have dark brown eyes. While northern spotted owls have a brown facial disk with a prominent white X around their eyes and beak, barred owls have a white facial disk with a less distinct X.

From the BACK:

Barred owls look more brown from behind, but are still not as dark as the northern spotted owl- they have more grey patterning throughout. The northern spotted owl is named after the small, white spots on the top and back of their heads.

Side-by-side comparison of a spotted owl and a barred owl.
    ​Artificial 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 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.
    ​Spotted 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.
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