Barred owls are now being killed by wildlife conservation experts so that Northern spotted owls, considered an endangered species, can be saved from extinction.
The measure may sound strange, but it was considered imperative by scientists such as Dr. Lowell Diller, senior biologist at the Simpson Timber Company and expert in spotted owl ecology at Humboldt State University.
So far, Diller has harvested around 100 barred owls, while venturing through the forests from Del Norte and Humboldt county.
Barred owls, also known as hoot owls or eight hooters, usually have brown eyes, a yellow beak, gray-brown speckled wings, as well as distinctive dark vertical streaks on their underside.
They can also be recognized by their unusual vocalizations, which tend to be quite loud especially during the night, and consist of 8 hoots marked by a decline in pitch.
Barred owls are native to the eastern part of North America, having broadened their territory westwards, past the Mississippi river at the beginning of the 20th century.
The avian creatures are now treated as an invasive species, due to the fact that they tend to out-compete northern spotted owls, which normally inhabit Washington, California, British Columbia and Oregon.
In fact, in some areas where the two types of owls have been co-existing, the number of northern spotted owls has dwindled by approximately 12% per year, despite extensive conservation efforts, meant to protect the birds’ habitat.
Barred owls have a much more threatening appearance than their counterparts from the Pacific Northwest, being significantly larger. They are also known to be more capable of adjusting to their surroundings, more belligerent and more efficient when it comes to foraging for food.
Barred owls sometimes destroy the nests built by northern spotted owls, or even turn into predators, attacking and even wiping out many of their smaller and more vulnerable cousins.
Sometimes, barred owls and northern spotted owls may mate together, producing “botted owls” or “sparred owls”. However, that happens very rarely, and is not believed to represent a threat as significant as that posed by the constant tug of war between the two species, triggered by the never-ending quest for food and new nesting grounds.
So as to counter this alarming trend, in 2007, it was revealed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was launching an initiative whereby barred owls would be hunted in several small timberland areas where spotted owls are being outnumbered.
It was hoped that this type of population control would pay off, and allow threatened owls to make a much-need recovery. Diller is just one of the many biologists actively taking part in the barred owl management program, meant to stop the expansion of this invasive species.
Apparently, the measures, which he has implemented ever since 2009, have indeed paid off, and northern barred owls experienced a resurgence in places where their adversaries have been wiped out.
The results have even been detailed in a scientific paper which will soon be featured in 2 journals published by the Wildlife Society: Wildlife Monographs and the Journal of Wildlife Management.
As explained by Diller, population control is especially important nowadays, given that barred owls have also widened their breeding grounds southwards, approaching San Francisco.
They currently represent a threat not just to northern spotted owls, but also to other species such as the California spotted owl, normally found in the forests from the western and central part of Sierra Nevada.
Meanwhile, wildlife advocates have been condemning the measures as abusive and unnecessary cruel, Andrea Jones from the National Audubon Society arguing that the only reason why the two owl species have been forced to compete with each other is because habitat loss has persisted unabated.
According to Shawn Cantrell, program director at Defenders of Wildlife, more emphasis should be placed on curbing unsustainable logging, mining and ranching, which have severely reduced the territories occupied by barred owls and their more endangered counterparts.
Image Source: Flickr