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 Owls 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.
The wild owl was observed digging outside one of our release pens where we temporarily house owls prior to reintroduction. Based on the behavior 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 partner. The male inside the pen was calling to this wild female, which is 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 his male in hopes they would produce a nest. The captive-release female who had not nested at this point was relocated with another release male at another site in hopes that they might 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) which allowed her to walk underneath the pen. 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 which we expect to hatch in the next few days. She, her mate and some of her young will be released after the young are near fledging which is around four weeks of age. If you’d like to read more on this story, our program director, Ale Froese, was interviewed by CBC. Here is the link to find the story online. 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 as they do not fare well in wet conditions (i.e., burrows flood and food sources decline) which the owls and our program have experienced in a handful of the last eight seasons in southwestern Manitoba. There are a lot of grasshoppers around this season which is usually a great sign for Burrowing Owls. Approximately 80% of the Burrowing Owl’s diet is insect 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 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 including ways you can get involved, please take a look at our website at www.mborp.ca.