Northern Spotted Owls are Canada's most endangered bird, with only 30 individuals living in the wild in B.C. In their range, which includes much of Washington and Oregon, Northern Spotted Owl populations have declined up to 90% in the last century. This is largely due to habitat loss - Northern Spotted Owls live in old growth forests, of which 90-95% have been logged in the Pacific Northwest. Since these owls are very territorial, require a large amount of land for hunting, and nest in large trees and tree trunks, logging has been devastating for their numbers.
Enter the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program of B.C.
Last week I went out to Langley with Bristol, who I've known since high school and who is totally passionate about wildlife and conservation. She has a soft spot for birds of prey and volunteers weekly at this tiny operation run by the Conservation Society of B.C.. With two full-time zoologists and a small crew of volunteers, the program seeks to study and breed Northern Spotted Owls in captivity with the aim of releasing successful offspring into the wild. Since the birds are so picky about their mates, it is a huge feat to even get them to mate, let alone successfully lay eggs and hatch chicks.
In 2007, NSO Breeding Program was initiated to prevent the extirpation of this iconic species in BC. The program was the first of its kind, and produced its first chick less than a year after being founded. The program began with six individuals and today the captive population is up to 16 Spotted Owls, thanks in part to the artificial incubation techniques and hand-rearing of newborn chicks.
Link to their FB page here.
The program also houses a Barred Owl named Forrest. Barred Owls are much more versatile than Spotted Owls and have taken a lot of their territory, helping to endanger them further. Since disturbing the Spotted Owls could interfere with the current mating season, we weren't able to see them up close, but we did take Forrest for a walk around the property. He and Bristol are acquainted so he was much more comfortable with her holding him.