[Tweeters] without control Barred Owl likely last straw for Spotted

Stewart Wechsler ecostewart at gmail.com
Sat Jul 27 14:44:57 PDT 2013

A few years ago I was asking a friend in Brace Point in West Seattle who
had an active pair of Western Screech Owls using his nesting box for years
how the pair was doing that year in raising a new crop of young. He said
that one of the adults, "Bruce", (actually I forget his name) had
apparently been taken. Within days of that a friend, whose wife takes a
lot of photos in Lincoln Park, about a half a mile from Brace Point, told
me about a dinner item, that he didn't recognize, that one of the juvenile
Barred Owls was finishing off after mom or dad brought it to him. It was a
leg with talons. He sent me the photo and I saw a gray leg feathered up to
the talons, substantially smaller than the leg of the Barred Owl. It was
clearly a Western Screech Owl. It was almost surely "Bruce".

I used to hear Western Screech Owls at Lincoln Park and at Camp Long, but
haven't heard them in either park for maybe 8 years or more. I used to
lead owl walks at Schmitz Park here in West Seattle. At first it was all
Great Horned we saw, and they were breeding there, then for a while it was
both Great Horned and Barred. Now, for about 8 years or more, it has been
only Barred that I have seen, heard, or heard of in Schmitz Park.

About 13 years ago or so I saw my first Barred Owl in Seattle, in Seward
Park. They weren't common in Seattle then. Now they are the dominant owl
in any substantial sized wooded area, and sometimes reported outside the
wooded areas. The Barred Owl is clearly what I call a "successful new
immigrant species", and is displacing species not adapted to life with this
successful new immigrant.

About 17 years ago I returned to an intense focus on nature, after a hiatus
of maybe 23 years. I wanted to find and see all of the diversity of
butterflies in the Seattle area, as was my passion in my childhood. I
found out that there was not that much diversity of butterflies in this
area these days, then found out that something like 35% of the plant
species that the butterflies here co-evolved with and a similar percentage
that would have been their potential "host" plants (caterpillar food
plants), had similarly disappeared. At first I thought I might be able to
find seed of the lost plants and plant them and bring back the lost
species, but later found that most of our lost plant species were not able
to hold their own in the face of successful new competitor species and
successful new species that now fed on them. I then found that one of my
best techniques for helping the embattled native species is to kill off the
alien species encroaching on them and overwhelming them. I then both kept
them from being killed and created an area of vacant land, adjacent to the
embattled native that already had soil and growing conditions that were
more or less what that species was adapted to grow in. I then found the
"embattled natives" would often colonize the adjacent vacant land.

While Spotted Owls have been severely impacted by logging of their
preferred old growth lands, we still have small numbers of them. Now with
the Barred Owl increasing its numbers and territory I don't see much chance
for the Spotted Owls to survive unless there is an effort to keep a radius
around their remaining territories free from Barred Owls. If you are
concerned about killing Barred Owls, I would suggest you "addle" their
eggs, that is find their nesting sites and their eggs and wipe oil over
them so they can't breath and die in the egg stage. I don't actually think
this is practical, but it might be a solution that would avoid much of the
emotional attachment to the individual Barred Owls that might create the
opposition to a program that might give the Spotted Owls some time to adapt
to life with the successful new immigrant Barred Owls that are not only
competing with the Spotted Owls, but eating them, competing with the
Spotted for prey, likely competing for nesting sites, and even breeding
with them, creating offspring that are not Spotted Owls.

I'd say before you critique a program that might give our Spotted Owls some
time to adapt to life with the successful new immigrant Barred Owls,
consider stopping driving your cars, which pays the oil companies to kill
so many organisms (and people) and destroy so much habitat so that we can
drive all over to see the birds and other animals and plants.

And if you or your group would like a professional naturalist to lead a
walk or talk about owls, or any other wild organism of our area, I am
available for hire, trying to make a living sharing my excitement for, and
knowledge of, nature, to hopefully create a new generation of stewards of
our embattled ancient ecological communities.

206 932-7225
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