Estimating Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) Pair Detection Probabilities Based on Call-Back Surveys Associated with Long-Term Mark-Recapture Studies, 1993–2018

Open-File Report 2023-1012
Prepared in cooperation with Oregon State University
By: , and 



The northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina; hereinafter NSO) was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 1990 and population declines have continued since that listing. Given the species’ protected status, any proposed activities on Federal lands that might impact NSO require consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and part of that consultation often includes surveys to determine presence and occupancy status of the species in the proposed activity area. The objective of this report is to present study-area specific estimates of the probability of detection for NSO pairs from twelve 2-week seasonal survey periods using data from a recent range-wide meta-analysis. These estimates were a by-product of pair occupancy modeling but might provide insight into potential changes in the effect of the invasive barred owl on NSO detection rates. We used two-species multi-season occupancy models to estimate the probability of detection for NSOs on each of 11 study areas for each 2-week survey period and relative to the range-wide effect of barred owl presence or absence. Detection probabilities within the season generally increased from the earliest surveys in March through mid-season, decreasing again in the late season on five study areas. For three other study areas, detection rates were highest during the earliest survey periods in late March or early April. Estimates of cumulative seasonal detection of NSO (across a maximum of six within-season surveys) were less than 0.90 when barred owls (BO) were present on all but one study area, regardless of when surveys were conducted within a season. However, despite low detection rates, the probability that a territory was occupied when an NSO pair was not detected over six within-season surveys was also very low. When BO are not present on a territory, a six-survey protocol had a high probability of detecting an NSO pair at least once during the season on all study areas, except for the very lowest per-survey estimates. Conducting most surveys earlier in the season, when the probability of detecting pairs is highest (through May on most areas) could improve seasonal detection rates. However, alternative methods of population monitoring—such as the use of passive acoustic recorders—may be needed to continue monitoring NSO for research and management.

Suggested Citation

Dugger, K.M., Franklin, A.B., Lesmeister, D.B., Davis, R.J., Wiens, J.D., White, G.C., Nichols, J.D., Hines, J.E., Yackulic, C.B., Schwarz, C.J., Ackers, S.H., Andrews, L.S., Bailey, L.L., Bown, R., Burgher, J., Burnham, K.P., Carlson, P.C., Chestnut, T., Conner, M.M., Dilione, K.E., Forsman, E.D., Gremel, S.A., Hamm, K.A., Herter, D.R., Higley, J.M., Horn, R.B., Jenkins, J.M., Kendall, W.L., Lamphear, D.W., McCafferty, C., McDonald, T.L., Reid, J.A., Rockweit, J.T., Simon, D.C., Sovern, S.G., Swingle, J.K., and Wise, H., 2023, Estimating northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) pair detection probabilities based on call-back surveys associated with long-term mark-recapture studies, 1993–2018: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2023–1012, 25 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Estimating northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) pair detection probabilities based on call-back surveys associated with long-term mark-recapture studies, 1993–2018
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2023-1012
DOI 10.3133/ofr20231012
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle, Forest and Rangeland Ecosys Science Center, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Southwest Biological Science Center, Eastern Ecological Science Center
Description vii, 25 p.
Country United States
State California, Oregon, Washington
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details