Basic Facts About Mexican Spotted Owls
The Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) is one of three subspecies of spotted owl. Though it is the smallest of the spotted owls, it is one of the largest owls in North America, and lives in old-growth forests.
Mexican spotted owls are exclusively nocturnal hunters and eat wood rats, mice, voles, rabbits, gophers, bats, birds, reptiles and arthropods.
In the United States, there are an estimated 2,106 Mexican spotted owls. Numbers in Mexico are also dangerously low.
Did You Know?
Spotted owls are one of the few owls that have dark colored eyes. Most owls have eyes colored from yellow to red-orange.
Mexican spotted owls have the largest geographic distribution of all spotted owl subspecies. They can be found in forested mountains and canyons from southern Utah and Colorado to the mountains of Arizona, New Mexico, west Texas and even into the mountains of northern and central Mexico.
Mexican spotted owls inhabit forested mountains and canyons with mature trees that create high, closed canopies, which are good for nesting. They prefer old-growth forests, and the distribution of spotted owls correlates with the distribution of forest land that has been protected from destruction and logging. Spotted owls remain in one place unless harsh winters and heavy snows force them to move downslope in mountainous regions. In milder areas, winter ranges may expand to increase prey availability. They are described as "perch and pounce" predators, typically locating their prey from an elevated perch by sight or sound, then pouncing on the prey and capturing it with their talons.
Mating Season: February to March.
Gestation: Around 2 months.
Clutch size: 2-4 eggs.
Did You Know?
The spotted owl serves as an "indicator species" for old-growth forests, meaning scientists study it to get a larger picture of the health of the ecosystem in which it lives.
Most nest sites are natural tree cavities, although Mexican spotted owls also use caves, potholes in cliff ledges and stick nests built by other birds. The young leave the nest at 32 - 36 days old to perch on surrounding branches, and can fly short distances at 40 - 45 days. Three weeks after leaving the nest, the young can use their talons to hold and tear prey on their own. Survival rate for the young is low.
Threats to Mexican Spotted Owls
The Mexican spotted owl is threatened by the loss of old growth forests (its preferred habitat) throughout its range, starvation and fire. They are also affected by barred owl encroachment, great horned owl predation, low reproductive success and low juvenile survival rates.
Like other Southwestern species, the Mexican spotted owl faces an uncertain future as climate change makes this region hotter and drier. The birds’ nest success is tied to precipitation, probably because vegetation, and in turn prey populations, depend on adequate monsoon rains. Extended droughts also increase the likelihood of wildfires will decimate their remaining forest habitat.
Finally, higher temperatures and drought conditions favor diseases like the mosquito-borne West Nile virus. West Nile develops more rapidly at higher temperatures, increasing the likelihood of transmission. Drought conditions also concentrate birds at remaining water sources, making them an easier target for disease-carrying mosquitoes.