Spotted vs. Barred Owl
Most of the time I’m hiking, I want to go fast. Mariesa, my hiking partner on the 2,192 mile Appalachian Trail last summer can attest to this, having heard me repeatedly say “We will NEVER get to Georgia going this pace!”
With that being said, I appreciate being slowed down from time to time. It worked out in my favor the other day when I was stuck behind a friend much slower than me. If it weren’t for hiking with him, I never would have taken the time to stop, take a breath, and look out into the woods.
Oh, how the woods rewarded me for taking that time. I got to see an owl sitting on a tree branch. My best bet is that it was a barred owl, since its similar looking cousin, the elusive spotted owl, is in decline. You can tell them apart by the vertical striping on the barred owl’s chest compared to the spotted chest of the slightly smaller spotted owl. Fun fact: The spotted and barred owl are known to interbreed to create the “sparred” owl.
Despite all the protections put in place for the spotted owl, its population is only a quarter of what it once was here in Washington State. Many point to the encroachment of the barred owl causing the decline, since it wasn’t that long ago that the barred owl was only found in Eastern United States. Due to fire suppression in the west and tree plantings in the great plains, the barred owl now calls the West Coast home, too.
Regardless of which I saw, these truly magnificent birds add so much value to the mystique PNW forest. They’re usually nocturnal hunters, so your best chance to experience one is to hit the trails at dusk and listen for the predators to “hoot.” Or, bring along a slow hiking partner and hope for the best. Photo courtesy of The Cornell Lab - allaboutbirds.org.