Science gives burrowing owls a boost in Alberta

The burrowing owl is endangered in Alberta.

But thanks to an initiative by the Calgary Zoo, 15 of the adorable little birds have been released into the wild in attempt to bolster the flailing population.

The project is a first for the species in the province.

“Reversing the decline of endangered species such as burrowing owls is important, but not easy. It requires persistent innovation coupled with courageous action through sound partnerships,” Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, the zoo’s director of conservation and science said in a statement.

Researchers gathered 15 young owls from the wild – eight females and seven males – with the poorest chance of survival last spring.

The young birds were cared for over the winter and this spring, locations for eight artificial nest burrows were set up.

They were released in pairs and quickly settled into their burrows and mated.

All seven pairs have laid eggs.

Dr. Troy Wellicome, senior species at risk biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service, explained in a way science is trying to give Mother Nature a boost.

“Through our previous research on wild owls, we’ve learned that the main problem for the population appears to occur between the time that owlets fledge from their nests and when they should be returning as one-year olds to breed back in Canada,” he said. “The head-starting project is artificially circumventing that stage of high mortality and low site-fidelity, by taking the owlets into captivity and releasing them directly back into Alberta sites the following year to hopefully breed in the wild as first-year adults.”

The zoo hopes these offspring will hatch and join their parents’ fall migration to Mexico or the southern United States.

The one-year-old old have been outfitted with satellite transmitters, which can hopefully track them across three countries.

“By using science, I believe we can make a positive difference for this cherished Canadian species over the years to come,” Moehrenschlager added.

In the wild, the populations has dropped by 90 per cent since the 1990s and the numbers continues to decline.

Photos Calgary Zoo

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