Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC

The Breeding Program

Small Population Management - Key Points

  • Maintain genetic vigor within the population
  • Introduce new stock on a regular basis
  • Separate breeding facilities for security of the gene pool
  • Manage breeding and release records well
  • Maximize genetic diversity in the field
  • The Breeding Birds

    In BC Burrowing Owls virtually disappeared in the early 1980's. The second attempt to reintroduce the species began in 1990. This time the plan was to breed owls in captivity, keep them until they were adults, and then release them to the wild in suitable grassland habitat.

    In the first part of our story, we raise captive-bred offspring for release to the wild. With so few breeding birds available it is very important that we pay very close attention to the breeding pairs that are established...

    Small Population Management - Basic Requirements

    Care and maintenance.

    A. Manage The Gene Pool

    Our total number of owls for the breeding program is less than 40. It is essential to prevent inbreeding (siblings mating) or line breeding (pairings between adults and related offspring). This can result in loss of genetic information in the population. Over several generations this can result in a weakening of the birds and loss of health.

    Our original breeding birds came to us from Washington State under arrangement between the BC Environment Ministry and the US Department of Fish and Wildlife. The breeding birds (called founders) were carefully selected from several clutches of young owls that made their homes in the grasslands near Moses Lake Washington. After checking the young owls over they were banded and transported to our breeding facilities at Kamloops and Vancouver.

    Bringing young breeding birds back to BC.

    B. Introduce New Stock on a Regular Basis

    Additional owls have entered the breeding program over the last 10 years. Some have been introduced from Washington State. Others have arrived from unusual locations. One owl was sent to our program from a Wildlife Rehabilitator in central Vancouver Island after it had been found with an eye injury. The owl has become a regular breeder. Many of her offspring have been released.

    C. Protect the Gene Pool

    We never like to think of things going really wrong but precautions are wise. Physical damage, disease or other calamities could decimate a small population if all the birds were in one place. That is why it is always wise to spread the breeding population out. See Breeding Facilities for more information.

    The future parents.

    D. Keep Accurate Records

    Ensure that breeding pairs in captive conditions are unrelated. Good records management also helps arrange for released owls to pair and reproduce successfully in the wild.

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