U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Biological Conservation 144 (2011) 2194–2201; doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2011.05.011


The northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) is a controversial species in the Pacific Northwest that is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The barred owl (Strix varia), a species historically restricted to eastern North America, has recently expanded its range to completely overlap that of the northern spotted owl. Recent evidence suggests that barred owls may compete with northern spotted owls and may be one cause for recent declines in some northern spotted owl populations. Our focus was to examine whether barred owls have the potential to competitively exclude northern spotted owls from their territories through interference competition. We used a playback experiment to quantify aggressive vocal and physical behavior of barred and northern spotted owls during territorial defense. Experimental trials consisted of displaying northern spotted or barred owl taxidermy mounts, and broadcasting recorded vocalizations of the corresponding species, in both barred and northern spotted owl territories. The frequency of interspecific interactions was lower compared to intraspecific interactions between northern spotted owls alone. However, barred owls responded with higher levels of vocal and physical aggression than did northern spotted owls when agonistic interspecific interactions occurred. Our results suggest that barred owls are likely to assume the dominant role during interspecific interactions with northern spotted owls. Thus, interference competition is a plausible mechanism by which barred owls could contribute to observed population declines of northern spotted owls in areas where the species co-occur.