Tosa, Marie I.; Lesmeister, Damon B.; Levi, Taal. 2022. BARRED OWL PREDATION OF WESTERN SPOTTED SKUNKS. Northwestern Naturalist. 103(3): 250-256. doi:https://doi.org/10.1898/1051-1733-103.3.250
The potential for trophic cascades triggered by recent range expansion of the Barred Owl (Strix varia) to the Pacific Northwest has caused concern among conservationists and managers. Barred Owl predation of small forest carnivores is a particular concern because these carnivores typically have low population growth rates relative to their body size owing to long interbirth intervals, which may result in sensitivity to increased mortality. The Western Spotted Skunk (Spilogale gracilis) is a common small carnivore in forests of the Pacific Northwest that may be a prey item for Barred Owls, and previous research suggests that avian predation can be a primary cause of mortality for congeneric spotted skunks (Spilogale spp.). We report a confirmed predation event of a Western Spotted Skunk by a Barred Owl and 3 additional predation events that we suspect were due to Barred Owls based on circumstantial evidence. During a Western Spotted Skunk research study, we recovered the radio collar of an adult male skunk from the top of a tall snag and located intestines and avian feces at the base of this snag. DNA metabarcoding revealed that the avian feces contained Western Spotted Skunk and Barred Owl DNA. Barred Owls are a novel predator of the Western Spotted Skunk in forests of the Pacific Northwest and may have both direct and indirect negative impacts on Western Spotted Skunk populations.