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Recovery Strategy for the Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) in Canada (Proposed)

Executive Summary

  • Burrowing Owls once occupied most of the grasslands of the Prairie provinces and southern interior of British Columbia. The owls currently occupy only 36% of their historical Canadian distribution, with populations declining over the past three decades from an estimate of more than 3000 pairs to fewer than 800 pairs.

  • Burrowing Owls depend on burrowing mammals (i.e., ground squirrels, badgers, prairie dogs, and marmots) to dig burrows that the owls use for nesting. Owl survival and reproductive success depend on ample populations of prey, such as mice, voles, grasshoppers, and beetles.

  • No single factor has been identified as causing the decline of Burrowing Owl populations in Canada. Instead, the cumulative impact of several factors is thought to be responsible.

  • Demographic measures related to changes in the Canadian owl population include poor reproductive success and low juvenile survival. The results of a recent isotope study also suggested that more owls were emigrating from Canada than were immigrating to Canada from the United States.

  • Threats include habitat loss and fragmentation, loss of burrows, decreased prey, increased predation, inclement weather, vehicle mortalities, and environmental contaminants.

  • The long-term recovery goal for the Burrowing Owl is to reverse the population decline in Canada and maintain a self-perpetuating, well-distributed population of at least 3000 breeding pairs within the four western provinces. This should include at least 30 wild pairs distributed within their historical range in the Thompson/Nicola and Okanagan regions of British Columbia, and the remaining pairs encompassing the 1993 distribution of Burrowing Owls in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

  • Not enough information is available at this time to allow the identification of critical habitat for Burrowing Owls. As scheduled studies are completed, critical habitat will be designated in future action plans.

  • Seven objectives are identified to achieve the recovery goal for Burrowing Owls:
    1. Identify factors associated with annual population changes.
    2. Identify and implement protocols that mitigate factors affecting population declines.
    3. Maintain, increase, and enhance breeding and foraging habitat.
    4. Optimize nesting success, fledging rate, and survival on Canadian breeding grounds.
    5. Re-establish wild breeding populations of Burrowing Owls within their historical range in British Columbia and their 1993 range in Manitoba.
    6. Encourage management, conservation, and research on Burrowing Owls, and the habitats they use, during all seasons in the United States and Mexico.
    7. Engage, support, and communicate with land holders and land managers about actions to improve Burrowing Owl populations and habitat in their local areas.