Banding Northern Spotted Owls to Conserve a Threatened Species

In August 2015, members of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Northern Region Interior Timber Conservation Planning Program assisted in the location, capture and banding of northern spotted owls (NSO). Timber Program members met up with Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) Wildlife Biologist Brian Dotters and drove to remote parts of the Northern Cascade Range to band juvenile owls.  Banding is the process of attaching a metal or plastic tag around a bird’s leg in order to allow identification in the future and also allow biologists to track its movements.

Photo_Banding NSO Aug 2015

CDFW staff watch and learn as SPI Wildlife Biologist Brian Dotters bands a juvenile northern spotted owl.

The first pair of juveniles were too hard to capture, so after an hour of trying to entice them to come closer using a toy rat attached to a fishing line and, later, live mice, the banding team decided to move on to the next site and return later.

Photo_Andy Yarusso and NSO Aug 2015

CDFW Environmental Scientist Andy Yarusso bonding with a recently banded juvenile northern spotted owl.

The next pair of owls were farther from the road. Hiking down a steep slope, the team reached a forest stand that contained the marked owl nesting site, a large tree with a broken top and excavated cavities most likely resulting from a pileated woodpecker.  When SPI Wildlife Biologist Brian Dotters played Northern Spotted Owl calls, eventually a female NSO called back from across the creek. Timber Program members and the SPI wildlife biologist traveled further downhill across rough terrain and over the creek in search of the owls.  The team eventually located two juveniles after traversing a steep slope covered in leaf litter. Though the pair were tough to reach, Brian used a hook and noose, widely agreed the most effective way to capture NSO juveniles, to capture, band, and take measurements of a NSO juvenile while the adult female watched aggressively.  This juvenile was minimally handled and released as quickly as possible.

Photo_David Haynes and NSO Aug 2015

CDFW Environmental Scientist David Haynes holds a camera-shy juvenile northern spotted owl.

Back at the first site, the young had moved lower in the trees while the team was away.  These juveniles were promptly captured with the hook and noose. This capture was quicker and allowed photographs to be taken following the banding process.

Photo_Michael Jee, Brian Dotters SPI with NSO Aug 2015

CDFW Scientific Aid Michael Jee and SPI Wildlife Biologist Brian Dotters with a newly banded NSO juvenile.

Marking the owls creates an opportunity to collect data on their movements and longevity.  This important information aids in the conservation of the northern spotted owl species.  It also tells us if they have been displaced by the barred owl, a native North American owl that has moved into old-growth coniferous forests and competes for habitat with the threatened Northern Spotted Owl.

~Photos contributed by Robert Hawkins, CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist (Supervisor)      ~Text contributed by Micheal Jee, former CDFW Scientific Aid