Fish & Wildlife | Ecotrope

How barred owls make spotted owls harder to hear

Ecotrope | Dec. 21, 2010 4:20 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:42 p.m.

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Federal biologists have begun using dogs to track Northern spotted owls, which are harder to find using mating calls because they're hooting less as barred owls move in on their turf.

Federal biologists have begun using dogs to track Northern spotted owls, which are harder to find using mating calls because they're hooting less as barred owls move in on their turf.

Amelia Templeton reports on a new method biologists are using to locate endangered Northern spotted owls in the forest: using dogs to track owl pellets and scat.

The part of this story I found interesting is why they’re trying this new method. The barred owl takeover of spotted owl habitat has been well documented, and it blurs the lines of how much logging and human activities are harming the protected owls. It also raises questions about how far we should go to recover the spotted owl; should we be killing barred owls in addition to reducing timber harvests?

Because of competition from the barred owl, spotted owls are hooting less. They don’t want to attract attention from the barred owls, who could run them off their turf or even attack them.

Less hooting makes it harder for researchers to find the spotted owls using traditional mating calls. Finding the owls is key to protecting them from logging operations that would threaten their habitat. The state of Oregon apparently already spends $1 million a year tracking about 100 owls on state forests ($10,000 per owl a year!). Quieter owls could double that cost … unless a well-trained dog could do the job faster.

Enter Conservation Canines, a program through the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology. The group’s trained dogs track scat to help researchers find more than just owls – including grizzlies, wolves, moose, killer whales in the San Juan Islands, cougars in Washington state, giant anteaters in Brazil and tigers and leopards in Cambodia.

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