Status: Near threatened
Known as: Mexican Spotted Owl, Spotted owl
Estimated numbers left in the wild: 2,100 in the United States, Mexican population unknown but also very low
Mexican spotted owls are large owls, though they are the smallest subspecies of the spotted owl. Their height ranges up to 48 centimetres and their wingspan can be as much as 112 centimetres. As with most owls, much of their apparent body is actually a fluffy mass of feathers, and the lean body inside weighs 640 grams at most. Females are larger than males on average. The colour of this subspecies is chestnut brown with large white and brown spots on the head, chest, and back. Unusually, their eyes are dark in colour, which is in contrast to the light colours of most owl eyes – a fact which allows much easier identification.
Diet: Mexican spotted owls are solitary hunters who prefer old growth forest with large trees and a dense canopy of branches overall. They prey on small forest animals of many different kinds, including mammals (rabbits, gophers, wood rats, mice, bats, and voles principally), birds, reptiles (snakes and lizards), and even insects or large spiders. Their preferred hunting technique is to perch on a high branch, scanning the ground below with their keen eyesight and hearing. When prey appears, they drop silently on it, kill it, and devour it.
Breeding: The species is confronted by poor reproductive success as well as other problems. The preferred nesting site for this owl is a natural hollow in a tree, though they will also use cliff ledges and may appropriate large stick nests made by other bird species. Two to four eggs are laid and the chicks stay in the next for slightly more than a month. They are able to fly shortly thereafter and gradually become more independent. Mexican spotted owls are known to live up to 17 years in the wild.
Location: Mexican spotted owls are found throughout north-western and central Mexico, and their range extends up into the United States, including Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. The species is typically found in old growth forest in mountain or canyon terrain.
Threats: Habitat destruction and climate change are the two main threats to the Mexican spotted owl’s future at the current time. Logging of old growth forest is a particularly acute risk in the United States, while Mexican forestry is different and not as destructive. For this reason, the Mexican spotted owl is declining in the United States but likely stable in Mexico.
Climate change is threatening this owl species as well because conditions are growing hotter and drier over much of the bird’s range. This lessens the availability of prey, heightens the hazard of large forest fires (which, of course, can destroy invaluable old growth forest, too), and gradually shifts the local ecology away from the conditions Mexican spotted owls are adapted to. Great horned owls prey on Mexican spotted owls, and barred owls also threaten the species.
Conservation efforts: Organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity are currently championing the cause of the Mexican spotted owl, chiefly through legal action intended to extend protection to its habitat. Unfortunately, recent defeats in the legal arena have left birds in the United States vulnerable to logging, ranching, and other habitat destruction.
Do you know of or are you a part of an organisation that work to conserve the Mexican Spotted Owl, then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.