Wild burrowing owl starts new family with captive male

Update from the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program working in cooperation with Turtle Mountain and West Souris River Conservation Districts

It has been a very busy and exciting month for the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program. On June 3, a wild burrowing owl was spotted at one of our release sites. This was an exciting sight as burrowing owl numbers in Manitoba (and across Canada) have been on a steep and steady decline in the last 50 years and we have spotted very few owls on roadside surveys in recent seasons.

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The wild owl was observed digging outside one of our release pens where we temporarily house owls prior to re-introduction. Based on the behaviour of the wild owl, we knew it was a female owl. She was very interested in the male inside the pen who had yet to produce a nest with a partner. The male inside the pen was calling to this wild female – likely what attracted her to his pen. As it was getting later in the breeding season and there were no wild males present, our program stakeholders approved temporarily holding this female with this male in hopes they would produce a nest.

The wild female owl was so eager to get into the pen with the male, she was easily captured by entering a one-way hole under the pen (that we constructed). Once inside, we banded and weighed her and then left her to get further acquainted with her mate. After 10 days, eggs were found in the nest and she is currently sitting on a clutch of five eggs we expect to hatch in the next few days. Along with her mate, she will be released along with her young once they are near fledging. This will be at around four weeks of age.

If you’d like to read more on this story, check out Program Director Alex Froese interview on CBC at the following link http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ manitoba/burrowing-owl-love-1.4693561

Since the end of May and beginning of June, four of five captive-release pairs have laid a total of 25 eggs and 14 of 20 have hatched. The last five eggs should hatch in the next few days. The weather has been dry and hot which is great for burrowing owls. They do not fare well in wet conditions (i.e., burrows flood and food sources decline) which have experienced in a handful of the last eight seasons in Southwestern Manitoba. Another positive is an abundance of grasshoppers around this season. Approximately 80 per cent of the burrowing owl’s diet is insects and they definitely love grasshoppers in particular.

As always, if you hear or see a burrowing owl on your land, don’t hesitate to call Turtle Mountain Conservation District at 204-747-2530, West Souris River Conservation District at 204-877-3020 or our direct Hoot Line at 204- 807-4668. If you are interested in keeping up with what is happening with the program, please follow our social media, at the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program on Facebook and koko.theowl on Instagram. If you’d like to learn more about what we are doing in Southwestern Manitoba to help burrowing owls or ways you can get involved, please check out www.mborp.ca.

© Melita New Era