Mike Stephens to Speak on Northern Spotted Owls
Special to the Journal by Kate Marianchild
Northern Spotted Owls: birds that used to strike terror in timber companies; birds that were once the darling of tree-sitters; birds that became a symbol in the timber wars of northern California. If you would like to learn the latest information about Spotted Owls and see some wonderful photographs, including moving footage, please join Peregrine Audubon Society for a presentation by Mike Stephens on the evening of Thursday, February 17, 7 p.m., at the Grace Hudson Museum, 431 S. Main St., Ukiah.
While battles still rage among humans over old-growth forests, Spotted Owls are innocently beginning their courtship and pre-nesting rituals deep in our Mendocino forests. If you were to dress warmly and hike into the darkness on a February night you might hear owls calling to each other to establish pair bonds. With enough light you might see males bringing food to females to prove their worth as providers.
Maybe such a hike doesn't appeal to you, but here in our county we are lucky to have someone who has made those pitch-dark hikes five nights a week, year-round, for the last five years. Mike Stephens, who works with the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, has actually been studying Spotted Owls for a total of ten years, beginning in Oregon and northeastern California. Five years ago he came to Mendocino County and began studying eight Spotted Owl territories in Mendocino County using a technique known as radio telemetry.
Stephens' research is contributing to the most current and comprehensive Northern Spotted Owl databank in the world. His part of the study is almost at an end; he will share with us what he and others have learned in this lecture and DVD presentation, which is free and open to the public.
Stephens will address the biology of Spotted Owls, their life cycles, what they eat, methods and techniques of studying them, and threats to their existence. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly to many people, he will report his surprising findings on the nesting and feeding habits of the owls in relation to the habitats they live in and near. He will also comment on the social, economic, and political impacts of Spotted Owls.
One of threats to this bird is a close relative, the Barred Owl, which is entering Northern Spotted Owl territory from points north and east and apparently displacing Spotted Owls. Because Spotted Owls stop vocalizing and defending their territory in the presence of Barred Owls, it is difficult to know exactly what they do or where they go when Barred Owls appear.
The two species also interbreed, which reduces the numbers of pure Northern Spotted Owls. Here in Mendocino County, where we have one of the highest Northern Spotted Owl densities in the Pacific Northwest, Barred Owls have made only minimal incursions to date, but it is thought to be only a matter of time before their numbers begin to grow rapidly. Another threat to the Spotted Owl is West Nile virus, which is carried by the Hippoboscid fly, a parasite of Spotted Owls and other birds of prey.
So does the Spotted Owl really deserve its "threatened" status? Even Stephens doesn't know for sure, partly because his research hasn't focused on that question. But he is currently plowing through a 500-page document recently released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on just that subject. It's gnarly reading but he hopes to have more information for us by the time of his February 17 presentation.
If you do like hiking around in the dark, and would like to go owling on the evening of Saturday, February 19, please call 463-0839 for more information. The driving time will be about 1 hour. Happy owling!
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