A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey has found there are probably a lot more barred owls in Northwest forests than past studies have shown.
That's because scientists counting barred owls in the past weren't actually calling barred owls. They were calling spotted owls.
This new study shows that those calls were only finding about half the barred owls. Calling barred owls directly raises the rate of detection by about 30 percent, according to USGS scientist and lead study author David Wiens.
Barred owls compete with threatened Northern spotted owls for food and old-growth forest habitat – so much so that the U.S. Forest Service is considering killing some barred owls to protect the struggling spotted owl population. Now the competition looks to be even more fierce than we thought.
Wiens told me his surveys found barred owls outnumber spotted owls four to one. That's only in his study area, he said, but it's representative of most of the Coast Range.
"It's hard to say how much barred owl numbers have been underestimated, but it's likely they have because so many of them are missed during surveys for spotted owls," he said.