Seeing Northern Spotted Owls and the conclusion to my North American Owl Big Year!

This weekend Ilya and I went hiking in the mountains of Washington and we were blessed to see 3 Northern Spotted Owls. These owls are endangered. In BC they are basically extirpated with less than a dozen left in the wild. In Washington the species is not doing well and there are about 200 birds left in the state.

Every time I see one I feel truly blessed to be in their presence. I have never seen a more curious and beautiful creature. They climb up and down the tree branches like parrots. All 3 of them flew in separately to us over the  2 days we were present. We found one baby the first day and no other owls. Dead tired we returned to the same spot and hiked up a tough incline where we found mom. The female flew within arms length and stayed with us the whole time, while we sat beneath her and at times at eye level. It was a magical experience in a most peaceful setting far away from any people and cell service. On the way down the mountain we were greeted by not one 1 baby but 2 baby Northern Spotted Owls bobbing their heads at us. We watched beautiful stars at night and had other owls during our hiking trip including Northern Saw-whets, Boreal and Barred Owls.

The Barred Owls are really taking over the territory of the endangered Northern Spotted Owl but we can't blame them. We are the ones who built the path from the East to the West to bring them here. One night we heard several Barred Owl males sparring.

I will never forget the special experience of being in the presence of these Spotted Owls. It was amazing to have them fly to me and feel the connection with these gorgeous creatures.

This event was made even more special as I left the best owl for last. I never set out for this to happen but due to circumstances and my travels I was able to see all 19 North American Owls in 12 months. I started in Sept 2016 and finished in August 2017.

I do not give out owl locations (especially for the endangered Spotted Owl) but I will list in which state or province I saw each owl.

Each owl was actually seen and not just heard:

Burrowing Owl (WA, AZ, BC, TX)
Barred Owl (WA, TX, BC)
Boreal Owl (AK, BC, WA)
Northern Spotted Owl (WA)
Whiskered Screech-Owl (AZ)
Elf Owl (AZ, TX)
Snowy Owl (BC)
Western Screech-Owl (BC, AZ)
Eastern Screech-Owl (TX)
Northern Hawk-Owl (BC)
Northern Pygmy-Owl (BC)
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (TX)
Short-eared Owl (AK, BC, WA)
Barn Owl (BC, WA)
Flammulated Owl (BC)
Great Horned Owl (BC, WA, TX)
Great Gray Owl (BC)
Northern Saw-whet Owl (BC, WA)
Long Eared Owl (BC, WA)

It was pretty cool to see all these beautiful owls in 12 months! Each owl encounter was unique and special like being granted full clear views of an accommodating Flammulated Owl, having the unique endangered Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl tooting at me and seeing a family of stoic Great Gray Owls staring back at me to encountering a Hawk-Owl hunting in the strangest place.

However, the most magical of all the experiences was with the Spotted Owls of course. The pictures speak for themselves but nothing can capture the magic of actually being there. The BC Government mismanaged the Spotted Owls and logging of the old growth forests which led to their demise (the captive breeding program unfortunately has not, nor can it bring this owl back in the province). However even though WA has done a much better job than BC, each year in WA the Barred Owls continue to push them out. They are "ghosts of the forests" that I hope when I'm old and grey will keep seeing but realistically I know one day soon all I may have of these spotted owls are pictures. I hope that we don't lose them and keep conserving every inch of old growth forest that we left so that we can keep them around forever.

The old growth forests are so vital to the Northern Spotted Owls because they can't live in just any forest. They prefer to eat Northern flying squirrels and wood rats, and flying squirrels prefer the high canopy of old growth forests. These owls live for about 15 years.

Seeing the juveniles was really special because these owls do not reproduce every year and it's a struggle for their young to survive but these two babies were nice and plump and well fed. Nice to see nesting success with this species, it brings hope.

To listen to a recording I made of a wild Northern Spotted Owl click HERE

Female Northern Spotted Owl - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Juvenile Spotted Owl in WA - Photo: Melissa Hafting
Adult Female Northern Spotted Owl in WA State - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Here is a movie I made on my iPhone of the 2 curious Owlets together.

Here are 2 videos I made with my actual camera, I apologize before hand for the shaking! My defense is I had no tripod....

Beware you may get nauseous while watching...

The one of the adult female is too large to be uploaded directly on the site. You must click HERE to view.

Below is one of the Juvies head bobbing:


  1. Wow! must have been an amazing experience!
    Congrats on your amazing achievement of seeing all the North American owls in 12 months!!!

  2. Congratulations on seeing all of the North American owls in 12 months. I haven't seen them all so far in my life.

  3. melissa these are the best spotted owl photos I have ever seen. you are one talented photographer and congratulations on your owl big year what a terrific feat!

  4. What an absolutely amazing experience! Fantastic photos and I really enjoyed the videos. Owls are magnificent animals!

  5. Thanks everyone for your very kind comments, truly appreciate it!

  6. mel these photos are stunning nothing more to say. well the experience must have been entrancing too. how lucky you and ilya are to share the same passion. these are the best spotted owl photos i've ever seen.... just sayin'. Thanks for bringing more awareness to their plight the liberal and conservative governments that used to be in power in this province destroyed much wildlife and habitat and unfortunately the bc spotted owls paid the ultimate price. i hope it isn't the same fate for wa.

    1. Thank you so much. I hope the washington owls do not have the same fate as ours as well.

  7. Last month I was biking a dirt trail next to a stream in a wooded area of Portland Oregon when I came across a big cyotee(sorry don't know how to spell very well). That in itself wasn't too crazy but what happened next was. I continued down the trail for only about 30 more seconds when a huge bird flew under the tree branches only about 4 feet above my head and then landed on a tall dead tree. There to my amazement we're not 1, not 2, but 3 of the most beautiful owls I have ever seen. All 3 stood about 2 feet tall and looked just like spotted owls. Their big eyes and beautiful feathers stunned me as they were only 20 feet from me. They seemed like they were in some kind of panic and also seemed to like that I was there because they got calm and I stayed with them for a good half hour before leaving. There was a definite connection between me and the owls and it felt almost heavenly or magical. if you have any idea on how or why these birds were where they were, why 3 adults would be together, or why I got to see them please email me at the area is populated close by and it wasn't a big forest, maybe a couple miles across. I went back to try and find them again but they were gone. I will never forget that moment and will always cherish with you your passion for these creatures because of it.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts

Dowitcher Identification

Hawk Identification Tips from every angle (Sharpie vs Cooper and Red-tailed Subspecies)


*Updated - The most famous Red-tailed Hawk is eating fish on the ground just like a Bald Eagle!

*UPDATED* The First Ever Black Birders Week May 31-June 5th