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Keywords:

  • California spotted owls;
  • radio-telemetry;
  • random sampling design;
  • resource selection function;
  • Sierra Nevada;
  • Strix occidentalis occidentalis

Abstract

We studied home range and habitat selection of radio-marked adult California spotted owls (Strix occidentalis occidentalis) randomly selected from among the breeding population of owls in the central Sierra Nevada, California from June to October 2006. The most parsimonious home-range estimate for our data was 555 ha (SE = 100 ha). Home-range size was positively correlated with the number of vegetation patches in the home range (habitat heterogeneity). We used resource selection ratios to examine selection of vegetation types by owls within our study area. Owl home ranges contained a high proportion of mature conifer forest, relative to its availability, although the confidence interval for this estimate overlapped one. We also used resource selection functions (RSF) to examine owl foraging habitat selection. Relative probability of selection of foraging habitat was correlated with vegetation classes, patch size, and their interaction. Owls showed highest selection rates for large patches (>10 ha) of pole-sized coniferous forest. Our results suggested that spotted owls in the central Sierra Nevada used habitat that contained a high proportion of mature conifer forest at the home-range scale, but at a finer scale (foraging site selection) owls used other vegetation classes interspersed among mature forest patches, consistent with our hypothesis that spotted owls may use other forest types besides old growth and mature forests when foraging. Our study provides an unbiased estimate of habitat use by spotted owls in the central Sierra Nevada. Our results suggest that forest managers continue to protect remaining mature and old-growth forests in the central Sierra Nevada because owl home ranges contain high proportions of these habitats. However, our results also showed that owls used younger stands as foraging habitat so that landscape heterogeneity, with respect to cover types, may be an important consideration for management but we did not attempt to relate our findings to fitness of owls. Thus management for some level of landscape heterogeneity for the benefit of owls should proceed with caution or under an adaptive management framework. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.