The Calgary Zoo has launched a first-of-its-kind conservation project to try to save the burrowing owl.
The zoo has gone out and found 15 of the youngest owlets that may not otherwise survive. It will care for them over the winter, and next spring they will be released back into the wild with a mate, and their movements will be tracked.
Dr. Alex Moehrenschlager says it appears the burrowing owl runs into trouble when it migrates south each year because their return rates are very low.
“When we put these guys out we’re going to put them out with a mate. We’ll save them, we’ll put them out with a mate, and they have a high chance of having young. Then they will migrate south and have a higher change of coming back.”
Moehrenschlager says return rates for the owls are much higher in their second year. If this project is a success the zoo is hoping to expand the program to include even more of the owls down the road.
It’s unknown exactly how many burrowing owls are left in the Canadian wild, but populations declined by 90 per cent in the 90s and they continue to drop.
“I’ve worked on the prairies for years on a number of endangered species and in some areas I would be used to actually seeing them at night all the time, but now some of those areas are just devoid of them. It’s a shame. Canadians cherish them, they’re something children can connect to as well. They’re a wonderful, cute little owl that anybody would love, really. I believe that we need to do everything that we can to save them. They’re previous and they simply can’t disappear on our watch.”