Think of it as a swoop in the right direction for the endangered burrowing owl. Last summer, the Calgary Zoo collected 20 burrowing owlets from the wild, removing the youngest and least likely to survive owlets and caring for them over the past year (last-hatched owlets typically have just a three per cent chance of surviving their first year).
The process, known as head-starting, is an innovative conservation technique to help bolster the wild burrowing owl population. The owlets were raised to adulthood and returned to the wild in southeastern Alberta this past spring.
The idea is that the strong and healthy owls will go forth and prosper (and hopefully mate, too). Though once common on the Prairies, the population of burrowing owls, which are smaller than pigeons, has shrunk over the past 40 years with estimates setting the number of breeding pairs at fewer than 500 in Canada today. Severe habitat loss and climate change are the main contributors to the population loss.
The owls have been brought back to near where they were originally hatched and installed in secure burrows to ensure they can safely mate and lay eggs.
“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,” Graham Dixon-MacCallum, a conservation research population ecologist with the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo, told CBC News in Calgary. “And if people are part of the cause of a decline, it means we can also be part of the cause of a solution.
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