Owl: A Year in the Lives of North American Owls

Owl: A Year in the Lives of North American Owls

Conservation Northwest / Oct 13, 2016 / Work Updates

The cover of our Major Gifts Director Paul Bannick’s latest book!

Join us on Wednesday, October 26 for Paul’s presentation and book release party at Town Hall Seattle! 

Tickets available online.


By Paul Bannick, Major Gifts Director

Good habitat contains a collection of elements that allow an animal to find food, shelter in the form of nests or dens, mates, and successfully breed. I am particularly fascinated by indicator species; animals that rely upon vulnerable elements of habitat used by many other species. Oftentimes, specialized predators such as owls make good indicator species.

In my latest book, Owl: A Year in the Lives of North American Owls, I follow North American owls through four seasons of the year including; courtship and nesting in the spring, finding sufficient food and raising young in the summer, helping young gain independence in the fall, and finally struggling against weather and competitors in the winter.

To best tell the complete story of North American owls I focus my lens and narrative on the owl species that between them best represent the full range of owl habitats and behaviors.

For the past eleven years I have been serving as the Major Gifts Director for Conservation Northwest and studying owls in the field during virtually all of my free time, including an annual three-month leave each of the past four years. Not surprisingly, I am often asked how the work of Conservation Northwest benefits owls.

First of all, North America is home to 19 species of owls that represent virtually every North American Habitat with the exception of alpine tundra. The wildlands that Conservation Northwest works to protect, connect and restore benefit 15 of our 19 owl species in a myriad of ways.

Our organization is well-known for much of the early work we did to protect old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. These ancient forests are vital for Northern Spotted Owls, but also benefit several other species of owls.

All forest owls require snags and our fights to prevent destructive salvage logging after wildfires have undoubtedly protected the nests of a great numbers of owls. The Northern Hawk Owl, for example, specializes in burned mature forests where it nests in large burned snags that tend to disappear in salvage logging efforts. Recent support of work to reduce the burning of snags by campers has also certainly brought safety for small owls and the woodpeckers that create their nests in these dead trees.

Our Forest Field Program in the Cascades and northeast Washington has allowed us to play an important watchdog role in ensuring that the right trees remain on public forest lands. Much of this work has resulted in the retention of mature Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir in the ribbon of habitat where giants of these tree species co-mingle, and create nesting habitat for the Flammulated Owl, which migrates to our Northwest mountains every year from Central America.

Great Gray Owls, with their five-foot wingspan the largest owl species in North America, require large meadows within mature forests to survive. Thanks to Conservation Northwest’s Columbia Highlands Initiative and our collaborative Working for Wildlife Initiative in the Okanogan area, we have raised money for several conservation easements on ranches that provide the mix of mature forest and meadow in one of the best parts of the state to find this inspiring bird. The protections we seek for roadless areas of the Kettle River Mountain Range would conserve even more mountain meadow Great Gray Owl habitat as well as high-elevation spruce habitat of the Boreal Owl.

A snowy owl takes flight. Photo: Paul Bannick

Our work on grasslands and shrub-steppe landscapes in the arid Columbia Basin and in the British Columbia Okanagan, including our advocacy for a South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park in Canada, also benefits a host of other owls including short-grass habitats preferred by Burrowing Owls, long-grass and shrub-steppe areas preferred by Short-eared Owls and open wintering habitat used by Snowy Owls.

Conservation Northwest is known for our work on the recovery of iconic carnivores such as wolves, but did you know the return of wolves to the Northwest will benefit owls? When wolves return to a landscape, studies show that deer, elk and moose move in more natural patterns and are less likely to prevent short-lived deciduous trees such as aspen, cottonwood, alder and maple from growing. These are the very same trees that host the most owl nests.

We protect what we love and we love what we know. My hope is that each of you and many more with less conservation awareness will be moved by watching the owls in my new book Owl struggle through the year and survive in our continent’s wild places.

I hope you can join me at Seattle’s Town Hall on Wednesday October 26th for the national launch of Owl: A Year in the Lives of North American Owls! For tickets see:


Conservation Northwest will be at the launch and can talk to you in more detail about our work to protect habitat for owls and other species. In my new program, you will witness the four seasons on territory, as each stage in an owl’s life is chronicled through rare images: courtship, mating, and nesting in spring; fledging and feeding of young in summer; dispersal and gaining independence in fall; and, finally, winter’s migrations and competitions for food. My new program shows how owls use the unique resources available to them in each habitat to face those challenges.