How dogs are helping the northern spotted owl

Researchers at the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology have found a novel use for dogs – detection of northern spotted owl pellets.  Owl pellets are regurgitated by the owls and contain fur, bones and other materials that the owl does not digest.

The traditional method of locating the owls was to undertake vocalization surveys that simulated the sounds of the northern spotted owl so that ‘real’ owls would respond.  But, as this owl has come under threat by another owl – the barred owl – researchers felt that the owls were not vocalizing out of concern that they would be found.  Barred owls are known to kill northern spotted owls.

Max, an Australian Cattle Dog, pauses after locating a northern spotted owl roosting in a tree in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Copyright Jennifer Hartman, University of Washington

Enter the detection dogs.  They find owl pellets at the base of trees where the owls are roosting.  By mapping these finds, the researchers can understand the habitats where each type of owl is thriving.

By using the dogs for detection, there was a 30% improvement in detection probability.

The information about barred and northern spotted owl populations will help forest managers who are making changes to protect the northern spotted owl.

Source:  University of Washington press release

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