Habitat selection by Northern Spotted Owls: The consequences of prey selection and distribution

James P. Ward, R. J. Gutiérrez, Barry R. Noon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


We tested three predictions of a hypothesis that states Northern Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) select habitat according to the distribution of their primary prey. Our predictions were that Northern Spotted Owls should (1) select larger (> 100 g) species among the assemblage of available prey, (2) select habitats according to the distribution of large prey, and (3) the owl's reproductive success should be influenced by the availability of large prey. We also evaluated the potential energetic value of several prey species. We found that Northern Spotted Owls (n = 11 pairs and 1 single male) in northwestern California differentially selected the dusky-footed woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes), a moderately large sigmodontine rodent (x̄ mass = 232 g). When foraging, owls selected late seral forest edge sites where dusky-footed woodrats were more abundant. Although the relationship between site selection, prey abundance, and the owl's breeding success was not statistically significant, the average abundance of dusky-footed woodrats at sites foraged by breeding owls (x̄ = 11.4 woodrats 100-trap-nights-1) was greater than at sites foraged by nonbreeding owls (x̄ = 4.7 woodrats 100-trap-nights-1). We estimated that a male Spotted Owl would require 150,015 to 336,232 kJ over a 153-day period while helping to produce one young, and concluded that the selection of woodrats provided a potential energetic benefit over the use of other prey. These findings provide a partial explanation for the owl's affinity for late seral forests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-92
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Dusky-footed woodrat
  • Energetic requirements
  • Foraging habitat
  • Late seral forest
  • Northern Spotted Owl
  • Prey abundance
  • Reproductive success
  • Strix occidentalis caurina


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