Education (7)

Canadian populations of the owls have declined more than 90% over last 40 years

The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo recently released 20 burrowing owls in southeastern Alberta, part of a broader effort to push back against significant population declines among the species in Canada. (Submitted by Calgary Zoo)
Still only owlets when they were brought to the Calgary Zoo last summer, 20 burrowing owls have since been returned to the wild in southeastern Alberta.

"They grew up into adults at the zoo over winter," said Graham Dixon-MacCallum, a conservation research population ecologist with the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo.

"We're releasing them as adults now in the hope that then they'll mate and produce more baby owls."

That's important because the population of burrowing owls, which are smaller than pigeons and distinguishable by their long legs, has shrunk in Canada over the past 40 years.

According to Canada's list of species at risk, the Canadian population of burrowing owls reduced by 90 per cent from 1990 to 2000, and by a further 64 per cent between 2005 and 2015 with estimates of fewer than 500 breeding pairs in Canada today.

"Burrowing owls were once a common element of the landscape in the Prairies and southern interior of British Columbia," reads a report from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

"They are now rare throughout their Canadian range."

Severe habitat loss, climate change and other changes to the owl's environment has contributed to the population loss, and the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo says last-hatched owlets within each wild family have about a three per cent chance of surviving their first year.

"Even those that do survive to leave the nest are very, very unlikely to survive migration and unlikely to return to Canada," Dixon-MacCallum said.

That's why the organization has sought to head-start the youngest owlets with human care at its Wildlife Conservation Centre, giving them a chance to grow up in an controlled environment without the threats of predators, extreme weather, and other factors.

The owls are brought back near where they were originally hatched into installed secure burrows. 

A netted enclosure is placed around owl pairs and their burrows to ensure they can safely mate and lay eggs and new couples are provided with food until eggs can be laid.

The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo says that to date, 152 owlets have emerged out of the nests. 

"I think that efforts like this, for burrowing owls or for other species at risk, are important, because really, all these species, I think, have really intrinsic value to exist," Dixon-MacCallum said.

"And if we don't try and do something to protect them, then we'll lose them."

Dixon-MacCallum said he knows that cynics might wonder whether the owls are worth saving due to their declining numbers.

"But burrowing owls have existed on the prairie for millennia. And they've only been declining for the last several decades, and that's because of changes to the landscape that are happening because of things that people are doing," he said.

"And if people are part of the cause of a decline, it means we can also be part of the cause of a solution."

The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo hopes to see the 20 owls mating and laying eggs this season. The netting enclosures will soon be removed so the owls can return fully to the wild.

The organization will continue to monitor the owls released this year. In July, a new cohort of 30 owls will be brought into the zoo, where they will stay over the winter.



View original story



Driven by warmer weather, one of B.C.’s most endangered birds is returning to their underground nests for the spring.

The Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C., a non-profit group established in the 1990s to protect and increase the province’s dire burrowing owl population, found yesterday that the small owls have begun to return to their nests for the season.

“They’re all banded so we can see which ones have come back. This year so far… at one of our sites we’ve found two pairs and we’ve see others flying around at other sites so that’s really good news if they’re coming back from migration,” said society executive director Lauren Meads.

The small birds begin to nest end of March and April and will have babies in the summer. In the fall, these tiny owls migrate to the U.S and Mexico for the winter, she said.

The birds are bred in captivity in Oliver, Langley and in Kamloops at the B.C. Wildlife Park. About 100 owls are bred a year before they’re released into the Thompson Nicola and Okanagan regions in underground burrows that are built by the society’s members.

Normally, the owls occupy former badger dens but their grassland habitat is being threatened by urbanization and expanding agriculture in the Okanagan and Thompson Nicola Valley. They are currently considered to be extirpated as a breeding species in B.C., according to the Ministry of Environment.

“It’s not that it’s just in B.C. Alberta and Saskatchewan have the bulk of the burrowing owl population but they’ve really dwindled as well,” Meads said.

The society is still understanding the birds migration patterns and are working with international and Canadian partners to track their migration and determine hazards, she said.

“It’s a good species to really represent the grasslands and we really need to represent the grasslands and conserve this ecosystem,” she said.

Since the early ‘90s, they’ve released roughly 3,000 owls and have seen about 350 owls return, she said.

“It’s a good return rate but we’re not at the sustainable part of the program yet where we can leave it and the population can keep going,” Meads said.

The society builds nesting sites for the burrowing owls. Habitat, migration and climate change are all playing roles in the dwindling burrowing owl population, she said.


By: Carli Berry

See Original story at: Infotel

By David Suzuki with contributions from Ontario Science Projects Manager Rachel Plotkin

B.C. is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a captive breeding program to protect spotted owls. With an estimated six of the owls left in the wild in Canada, all in B.C., that seems like good news. But while the program includes some habitat protection, the province is also approving logging in habitat the owl needs to survive.

It’s a major flaw in government-led conservation efforts. Stories of captive breeding programs that lead to successful animal re-introduction are happy, but they’re often born out of sad stories about the animals’ plight.

Captive breeding programs are last-ditch efforts to save animals after humans have degraded or destroyed their habitat to the point where it’s difficult for them to survive. In almost every case, experts and regulators are aware of the species’ decline and the reasons behind it, but calls for habitat conservation go unheeded, or efforts are inadequate to ensure the animals can continue.

Species don’t disappear overnight. Activities that degrade and destroy habitat are allowed to continue until a species is driven to point where it can no longer function in the wild and needs human help.

Conservation would work better if land-use management regimes focused on maintaining habitat wildlife needs to survive before it’s too late. Instead, we wait until tipping points have been passed and then scramble to capture animals for breeding.

Read full David Suzuki here


Nearly 100 juvenile burrowing owls take first steps into the wild

 Residents of B.C.'s Interior shouldn't be alarmed if they start seeing a bunch of owls flying around in coming days. It's all part of the plan.

The B.C. Wildlife Park — a zoo in Kamloops, B.C. — has been working for decades to save the native population of burrowing owls from extinction. The park released dozens of the birds into the wild Friday.

It's part of a provincial survival plan to stabilize the animal's declining population.

"Historically, there were owls here, but we like to live exactly where the owls like to live," said Tracy Reynolds, a zookeeper at the park.

"Because of our farms actually taking over their habitat, they've declined to the point of being almost gone."

The park, a member of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C., is trying to create livable areas for the creatures, educate the public on their importance and prevent further owl-habitat loss.

For years, the park has been breeding burrowing owls, and then moving them to large, caged enclosures around the Interior as they get older.

First, the animal spends some time flapping around the enclosure, getting used to it. Then, when the time is right, the enclosures are opened and almost 100 of the tagged owls will be free to roam.

The hope is that many of the tagged owls will return to the prepared enclosures in B.C. after they migrate south for the winter.

Read the full article by Matt Humphrey at CBC

Original CBC article here.

As founder of the Global Owl Project, David Johnson works with 450 people in 65 countries to research, track, and preserve owl habitat.

He runs a multi-partner project at Umatilla Chemical Depot, in Oregon where volunteers are working hard to increase the numbers or burrowing owls.

A female owl that was tagged and released by BOCS BC was identified nesting at the Umatilla site. She has since mated and produced several young owls that are being monitored.

Dave co-operates with the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC to help save this endangered species.

Read more YakTriNews

Common name: Burrowing Owl

Latin name: Athene cunicularia

Status under SARA: Endangered, 2006 COSEWIC assessment: Endangered

Range: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba

Life Span: three to four years

Size: 23-28 cm tall; weighs 125-185 g

Population Estimate: Fewer than 1,000 pairs in Canada

The Facts

Burrowing Owls often stand upright on their long thin legs so they can see farther out over the flat prairie.

Often, the male will stand watch outside the burrow while the female and her young are underground. If an intruder comes near, the male sounds an alarm call and then tries to lure the intruder away from the nest with a series of short flights. If the intruder continues, the young birds go to the back of the burrow and make a hissing noise that sounds like a rattlesnake.

They leave for their wintering areas in the southeastern United States and Mexico in September, and return to Canada in April.

Grasshoppers and beetles are the favourite foods of the Burrowing Owl. They also eat a few mice, voles, ground squirrels, toads, small birds, and carrion.

Females lay six to twelve white eggs and incubate them for about four weeks. When the nest gets too crowded (after about two weeks), the young move to the entrance of the nest where they stand waiting for the adults to bring them food. About seven to eight weeks after hatching, the young will start to feed themselves.

After the young are active above ground, they may move to other burrows near the burrow in which they were born.

The Story

Burrowing Owls look like little owls on stilts. They are 23-28 cm tall standing on long thin legs. The Burrowing Owl is unlike most owls in many ways: it lives in burrows in the ground, is active during the day, the female is smaller than the male, and its favourite foods are insects.

Burrowing Owls were common summer residents in the southern regions of the prairie provinces and BC until the mid-1900s when modern agriculture practices began. Cultivation of the land for agriculture has severely reduced Burrowing Owl habitat over the years. By 1979, Burrowing Owls were extirpated from BC. Burrowing Owl populations in the prairie provinces continue to decline. Today, it is thought fewer than 1,000 pairs remain in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and on rare occasions in southwestern Manitoba. Occasionally, the owls winter in coastal British Columbia and are seen in Ontario and Quebec during spring.

Burrowing Owls require open areas with low ground cover, existing burrows, and abundant food. They rely on holes in the ground made by ground squirrels, badgers, and foxes in which they make their nests. Unfortunately, some farmers regard these animals as pests and kill them. With declining populations of these mammals, Burrowing Owls are unable to find suitable nesting sites. Furthermore, ground squirrels and foxes are often killed with poison and, when Burrowing Owls feed on their carcasses, they too are poisoned.

Another threat Burrowing Owls face is “Carbofuron,” a pesticide used to kill grasshoppers in farm fields. When Carbofuran is applied in fields and Burrowing Owls eat the poisoned grasshoppers, the insecticide accumulates in the owls’ bodies. Where Carbofuran is used within 50 m of burrows, the affected owls produce 54 percent fewer young than normal.

While many Burrowing Owls migrate to the southern US and Mexico for the winter, researchers have been trying to find out why only half of adult Burrowing Owls come back to their northern breeding grounds each spring, and why a mere six per cent of young owls return to breed in Canada the year after they are born.

What is Being Done

Burrowing Owls are protected in all provinces where they are found – BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

“Operation Burrowing Owl” was established in Saskatchewan in 1987 to encourage landowners to protect the Burrowing Owls’ nesting habitat. By 1994, 534 landowners in Saskatchewan had committed themselves to protecting owl habitats. In Alberta, the program has expanded to include protection for other endangered species, and is called “Operation Grassland Community”. By 1994, about 260 landowners in Alberta had committed to protecting habitats around owl nesting sites, amounting to over 22,000 ha.

In 1992, six Burrowing Owl pairs were reintroduced to the southern interior of British Columbia. As of 1995, an estimated five to ten pairs of Burrowing Owls were living in BC.

In 1994, the Operation Burrowing Owl newsletter was translated into Spanish for Mexican distribution in the hope that protection will be offered to the birds in their wintering areas.

In 1996, a decision was made by the federal government to slowly phase out some of the uses of the insecticide Carbofuran.

In addition, a national Burrowing Owl recovery team, working through Recovery of Nationally Endangered Wildlife (RENEW), approved a recovery plan in 1995 and updated the plan in 2002. The end goal of the plan is to increase Burrowing Owl populations in Canada to levels where they become self-sustaining.

What You Can Do

  • Learn more about the Burrowing Owl and its habitat and share this information with your family, friends, and community.
  • Support groups and individuals who are working to save the Burrowing Owl.
  • Encourage farmers and other landowners not to disturb areas in which Burrowing Owls live. Encourage landowners to use alternatives to pesticides or lower doses of these chemicals.

    Read the full article at Nature Canada

She did it for love: Rare wild owl tries burrowing into Manitoba enclosure to find mate

Researcher says fewer than 5 pairs of burrowing owls left in wild; Manitoba population nearing extirpation

CBC News · Posted: Jun 06, 2018

With files from Janice Grant and Aidan Geary

A small, tenacious owl discovered trying to worm its way into a captive male's enclosure last weekend has found a love connection researchers hope will result in much-needed burrowing owl chicks.

A field assistant with the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program was doing a regular check on the program's five captive mating pairs on Sunday when she spotted the wild little owl, apparently doggedly interested in getting inside one of the pens.

"She was trying to push through [chicken wire] with her head, which she wasn't able to do, and then she was digging at the outside of the pen as well. She was using her talons to sort of dig underneath — it wasn't doing too much," said Alex Froese, the program director.

"She was very, very eager and very interested in getting into this pen."

Read the full CBC story here