Northern Spotted Owl. Photo: John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS

San Francisco, CA – Online voters this month have named one of the most high-profile conservation touchstone species as the 2016 Audubon California Bird of the Year. The Northern Spotted Owl – which has inhabited the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years – received the designation after totaling nearly 25 percent of votes cast during an online poll this fall.

The Northern Spotted Owl is dark brown with roundish features and  – true to its name –white spots. Its deep hooting call echoes romantically through the dense forests.

First impacted by the logging industry, the owl earned “threatened” designation under the Federal Endangered Species Act in 1990. Despite the federal listing, the bird continues to decline rapidly due to habitat loss, encroachment by other species, climate change, wildfire, and other factors. This year, Audubon advocates successfully supported Environmental Protection Information Center in its effort to list the species under the California Endangered Species Act.

“Every bird that was nominated this year has an important conservation story,” said Brigid McCormack, executive director of Audubon California. “The Northern Spotted Owl is not only a joy to see, but it’s also a strong symbol for the importance of conservation.”

More than 5,400 votes were cast in this year’s Bird of the Year poll, but this may have been our closest contest yet. The Northern Spotted Owl finished with 24.88 percent of the vote, just edging the California Scrub Jay, which got 24.02 percent. The Coastal California Gnatcatcher was a close third at 21.32 percent.

“Each of the nominated birds was a focus of our conservation work in 2015,” said McCormack. “Our hope is that the attention this award brings to the Northern Spotted Owl will help raise awareness of the conservation needs of all birds throughout the state.”

About Audubon California 

Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. With more than 350,000 members and supporters in California, and an affiliated 49 local Audubon chapters, Audubon California is a field program of the National Audubon Society.

More information is available at


How you can help, right now