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The Problem with Barred Owls

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Just in time for Superb Owl Sunday, an article on owls! If you are as old as I am you will remember in the 90’s the hullaballoo about Spotted Owls here in the Pacific Northwest. At the time the culprit was logging, Spotted Owls have evolved to inhabit old-growth forests, tall trees, old snags, healthy streams, and with the many food sources that also live in the same habitat. Continual cutting down of old-growth trees removed much the Spotted Owls habitat and they have not adapted to the loss. They were labeled endangered at the time, and while logging old-growth is now reduced significantly, there is now a new threat to the Spotted Owl, the Barred Owl.

Barred Owl’s have slowly moved from the east coast to the west, they can thrive in forests young or old. They eat a wider range of food for their diet, and they reproduce faster than Spotted Owl’s. We have photographed Barred Owls on our trip to the Carolinas, here in the PNW on Whidbey Island, and just down the road in Yost Park. So I well understand when I read they are pervasive from my own personal experience. So what to do with the lack of old-growth forest and the prevalence of the Barred Owl? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed allowing hunters to track, trap, and shoot the Barred Owls.

The goal would be to remove 500,000 Barred owls over the next 30 years. Hunters would have to apply for permits that expire after three years. The permits would be given based on the location they wish to hunt and determine if they are allowed to shoot or only trap the owls for removal. I assume for instance you would not be allowed to walk into Yost park here in Edmonds and shoot at Barred Owls in the night, and that the hunting they’d advocate for would be in old-growth forests first and foremost where the Spotted Owl is most threatened.

Will this plan work? Reading opinions from biologists and other experts most are skeptical but also see no other alternative if the Spotted Owl is to be saved. The one thing they all seem to say and agree on is that the situation is incredibly sad. Humans caused the problem not the Barred Owls but much like many other management programs of invasive species, the Barred Owls will be the target. Sometimes these plans work, sometimes they don’t, and often they have adverse side-effects that create new wildlife management issues.

On the Columbia River both Cormorant’s and Sea Lions are eating all the salmon. In 2015 Cormorant’s were driven off of their preferred nesting area, East Sand Island in an effort to help the salmon runs. About 50,000 were displaced, and a fifth of those decided to make new a new home on the massive Astoria-Megler Bridge. Now their acidic poop is causing major damage to the bridge, and they are eating a disproportionate amount of salmon due to the fact they are further upriver than the island. Now the plan is to remove them from the bridge and hope they move back to the island!

The Sea Lions, having been reduced in population due to hunting and fur trading a long time ago, were given protected status some years back and have since rebounded in population. Now they are being targeted as another threat to the salmon, because they gather near dams, locks, and floating bridges where they can easily feed on them. So now due to an amendment in 2018 they can be removed (hunted) specifically in these areas to protect the salmon.

Invasive species aren’t only problems in the northwest, on the opposite corner of the lower 48, the Everglades of Florida have their own issues. Snakehead fish when first discovered in Florida canals a little over 20 years ago made many headlines, similar to the Barred Owl they eat everything and are very aggressive. The worry was that other local fish populations would begin to decline as the snakeheads dominated their habitat. Since then there has been no major impact on local fish, and apparently there is quite a good fishing industry for recreational snakehead fishing. Burmese Pythons are the other unwelcome visitor to Florida, and I get it, who wants giant snakes in their back yard!? These pythons are still quite unwelcome, in fact, Florida will pay you by the foot to remove them.

I truly hope the Spotted Owl’s will survive – I’d love to one day photograph one, and if we do we’ll be sure to post about it here! Do we need to kill the Barred Owls to do this? It’s hard to say, clearly our attempts to manage different species in the past have had varied results, sometimes even negative results. I am no expert but I think even those who study this can’t predict the outcome. Maybe Barred Owl removal will help the Spotted Owl, but what other unintended consequences could there be? Hopefully the Spotted Owl will adapt, as Jeff Goldblum say’s in Jurassic Park, “life will find a way.”

Useful Links:

  • Read our last post about the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize! Our next couple of posts will also be from Belize, we found too many birds for just one post.
  • A piece on the Barred Owl by the Seattle Times and from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Check out all our other birding and nature adventures here.
  • Please check out the Kingsyard banner above and give it click. They make some really cool bird feeders and bird houses that you’ll want to check out!
  • Most of these shots were taken with the Sony a7 along with the Sony FE 200-600mm lens.


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  1. Gmops Gmops

    Great post! Sad about the owls.

  2. Marvin Calhoun Marvin Calhoun

    We saw one last week in Hoyt Arboretum, Portland Oregon. That is why we are researching them and learned about their sad fate. I tried to post a photo but it didn’t work here.

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