Walk through almost any Portland park at night and you'll hear it—a chorus echoing out from the trees, seemingly asking, "Who cooks for you?"
It's the call of the barred owl.
The prolific hooter is an invasive species from the Northeast United States, now so prevalent in the Northwest it is threatening the extinction of the more famous but also more reclusive spotted owl.
"We started documenting them in the mid-1990s," says Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland. "Since then, they have pretty much exploded. Now they are practically everywhere."
It was the campaign to save the spotted owl in the 1990s that led to a drastic reduction of logging on federal lands. But today, barred owls are crowding out their smaller cousins so rapidly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtained a permit to shoot 3,500 barred owls in Oregon, Washington and Northern California.
Sallinger says there's no way to know how many of the birds there are in Portland, but 25 years ago, nobody ever brought an injured barred owl to the local Audubon Society. Now, the nonprofit treats 30 to 40 per year.
Sallinger acknowledges that barred owls are disrupting the state's ecosystem. They're also highly territorial: Joggers—especially those with ponytails—regularly report getting dive-bombed.
At the same time, the owls help connect a growing city to its wild roots, and expose Portlanders to an animal most of us would not encounter otherwise.
"They are a really cool species," Sallinger says, "and they really thrive in an urban environment."
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