Burrows built for breeding burrowers…
NCC staff and volunteers are helping provide safe burrows for the burrowing owl in British Columbia.
Barb Pryce, the Nature Conservancy of Canada Southern Interior program director, explains that to build a set of burrowing owl dens, it takes a “huge effort and infrastructure development.”
NCC is working in partnership with other conservation groups like the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC (BOCSBC). “The Nature Conservancy of Canada has undertaken significant land acquisition in the South Okanagan and Similkameen,” Pryce explains.
While a few populations thrive in Washington state and Oregon, burrowing owls were declared “essentially extirpated” (locally extinct) in British Columbia in 1980. The population had fallen by up to 90 percent over the past century, a victim of development and predators. When the BC government tried to reintroduce burrowing owls by releasing them into the wild in the late 1980s, the owls just wouldn’t burrow. It wasn’t until 1990, when a dedicated group of volunteers began a captive breeding and reintroduction strategy, that reintroduction efforts took off.
Ordinarily, burrowing owls occupy empty gopher or marmot tunnels, using the pre-existing structures and doing some renovations of their own to create their nests. They’re able to dig a bit, explains wildlife biologist Lauren Meads, but they prefer to move in to established neighbourhoods. Meads, who works for BOCSBC, spends a lot of time scoping out safe and secure nesting sites across the BC interior.
An estimated 700 burrows have been created across the province over the past two decades, and more are in the works. “We want to continue supporting the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC not only in maintaining the site they have at Badger Flats, but to expand their program by creating a new site at the Sage and Sparrow Conservation Area,” says Pryce.