Supporting Captive Breeding for Northern Spotted Owl: Canada’s Most Endangered Bird

Project Year: 2016-2017

View Provincial Database Record

Northern Spotted Owl: N. Wajmer

Project Lead

British Columbia Conservation Foundation


Coastal Region


Project Type

Species-Based Actions

FWCP Contribution


Action Plan Alignment

Bridge-Seton Species Action Plan

Project ID


Northern Spotted Owl Captive Breeding Program

The Northern Spotted Owl is Canada’s most endangered bird; its entire Canadian range occurs in the southwestern portion of B.C. Fewer than 30 individuals remain in Canada, more than half of whom reside at the captive breeding facility in Langley. This project’s goal is to keep this species from becoming extinct in Canada.

As the only captive breeding program for this species in the world, our objective is to produce captive-born owls that will be released into habitats protected by the Provincial Government, beginning with the Bridge-Seton Watershed. The project aims to produce 10 to 20 owls per breeding
season for release.  Spotted Owl releases are scheduled to start in 2017.

See for Yourself

Watch this video courtesy of the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program.


Final Report: Executive Summary

The Northern Spotted Owl (NSO) (Strix occidentalis caurina) is one of British Columbia’s (BC) most endangered species and the Province remains committed to recovery actions that will help protect it. This species is only found in a small portion of the province, primarily in the Coastal Region. The recovery strategy was developed by a team of leading experts in the scientific community in 2007. Recovery efforts in BC have been led by the provincial government and the British Columbia Conservation Foundation (BCCF). There are three main components to the strategy:

  • Preserve suitable habitat sufficient to provide for 200 adult Northern Spotted Owls (the recovery strategy goal). High-priority habitats have been protected to meet the recovery strategy’s goal. Additional habitat areas have been partially protected for NSO recovery to provide areas for future recruitment of NSO habitat to replace existing habitat that may become lost to natural events, such as wildfires. Currently 325,000 hectares of Crown land have been set aside as habitat for NSO recovery, including portions located in the Bridge-Seton Watershed.
  • Captive-breed the NSO to create a population that can be released back into the wild, beginning with the Bridge-Seton Watershed. The initial population of NSOs in the captive breeding program comes from four adult owls captured from the wild, one injured adult owl that was found in 1994, and one wild caught juvenile owl. Today, the captive population consists of eight captive born (two from the USA), seven wild caught juvenile, (one from the USA), and two of the initial owls captured from the wild. There are currently 17 Northern Spotted Owls at the breeding facility in Langley.
  • Control Barred Owls, which compete with NSO for habitat. Preliminary results suggest that limited control of Barred Owls in known NSO territories has assisted existing wild NSOs to maintain themselves and increase breeding success in the wild. Up to 17 new NSOs (ten adult and seven young) have been discovered at sites where Barred owls were removed.

The Northern Spotted Owl Captive Breeding Program aligns with the Bridge-Seton Species Action Plan as the Spotted Owl is ranked as high priority. By breeding Spotted Owls in captivity, we will be able to increase the population size of this species for eventual release in the BridgeSeton Watershed. This aligns with the FWCP’s Species-based action plan of restoration of a species through captive breeding and reintroduction (FWCP 2017). The release of captive bred individuals into predetermined suitable territories will immediately enhance population size within this region. This is in alignment with Objective 2 the Upland and Dryland Objectives of the Bridge River & Seton River Watersheds’ Action Plan (FWCP 2017), to maintain or improve the status of species of interest. Population enhancement will lead to a more stable and viable population that can sustain commercial impacts caused by current and future industry, addressing concerns regarding Objective 3, in the aforementioned Action Plan (FWCP 2017).

Click the provincial database link below to read the full final report for this project.

View more about this project on the provincial database