"[I]n several instances we have found them as much as 36 feet in the girth or 12 feet in diameter perfectly solid and entire. they frequently rise to the hight of 230 feet, and one hundred and twenty or 30 of that hight without a limb."
-Meriwether Lewis on Sitka spruce
In the shadows of the enormous Sitka spruce and Douglas fir along the Pacific coast, Lewis spent the winter of 1806 describing plants and animals in his journal, touching on everything from squirrel-tail grass to the candlefish. Swooping above, but still under the trees' high canopy, a small, quiet bird went unrecorded. Two centuries later, the northern spotted owl would enter the spotlight, linked to the preservation of old-growth forests like the one surrounding Fort Clatsop.
Northern spotted owls spend much of their lives in the space between a tree's top branches and the level where its roots meet the soil.
Owl pairs nest in trunk cavities, dead tree tops, or broad snags. Their dark brown and chestnut-colored feathers marked by lighter bands help them blend in with shadows broken by sun filtering through the branches. Tall trees that blot out much of the sky provide the owl some protection from predators like great-horned owls and northern goshawks. The spotted owls hunt for dusky-footed woodrats and their primary prey, red-tree voles and squirrels, foraging over an area up to 2,200 acres per breeding pair. The squirrels in turn feed on mushrooms and other fungi found on the forest floor, which is piled with decaying trees and conifer needles.
This habitat of large trees of mixed species and a rich understory is mostly found in old-growth forests where trees are at least 200 years old.