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Short-eared owls rescued, rehabbed, and released

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Posted by Dayle Hopp

CRESTON – With the help of the Ministry of Environment (MOE), the BC Wildlife Park, and BC Hydro six short-eared owls recently got a brand new lease on life – in the wild.

The owls were released near Creston at the end of August, taking to the air and scouting out their new habitat with apparent ease. The release was assisted by staff from the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP) and the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area (CVWMA).

The six chicks, all from the same nest, were initially found near Revelstoke in late May by biologists conducting Water Licence Requirements monitoring studies in the Columbia System. The problem was that they were located in the drawdown zone of Upper Arrow Lakes Reservoir, and water levels were expected to rise and submerge the nest.

Short-eared owls are blue-listed (of special concern) in the province so a rescue plan was developed. In early June, the chicks were transported from the nest to the BC Wildlife Park near Kamloops by a Ministry of Environment biologist while BC Hydro contributed funds to their care.

"We were really happy with the progress the owls made and to have all six survive, and thrive, was extremely satisfying," said Paul Williams, animal care supervisor at the Park. "Four out of the six became adept at catching live prey in their enclosure and what we hope to see is that they will stay together after release and the two not so proficient at hunting will quickly pick up those skills from their siblings."

At approximately three months of age all six chicks were transported to the CVWMA. This 17,000 hectare wildlife refuge, with its numerous marshes and open grasslands is perfect habitat for the birds. The area is already home to short-eared owls.

"When the cages were opened some of the birds took to the air immediately while others preferred to hold back before tasting freedom," said FWCP biologist Irene Manley, from BC Hydro. "Within 30 minutes, however, all had taken wing and were flying effortlessly around the release site. They really are remarkable birds to watch."

The FWCP works on behalf of its program partners BC Hydro, MOE and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to take proactive steps to protect fish and wildlife populations throughout B.C.

"These beautiful young birds are alive and flying today thanks to the passion, dedication and collaboration of a committed team of animal care professionals," said Environment Minister Barry Penner. "I'm very proud of the contributions made by our ministry staff biologists and congratulate them and their partners in BC Hydro and at the BC Wildlife Park. It shows what we can accomplish in support of species at risk when we work together."

A biologist, funded by BC Hydro, will visually monitor the birds over the coming weeks to see how they do in their new environment. All the birds have received leg bands and non-toxic dye colouring on some feathers to make identification easier. The local birding community as well as others south of the border have also been informed of the release as the birds may migrate to the United States for the winter.

"We are extremely pleased that we all were able to come together and follow through with the rescue plan," said Ed Hill, senior environmental coordinator with BC Hydro. "It is very rewarding for all of us to be able to take action such as this, especially with a species-at-risk like the short-eared owl."

Short-eared owls:

  • Are provincially Blue-listed (of special concern) and federally listed as a Special Concern in Schedule 3 of the Species At Risk Act.
  • Are one of the most diurnal (daytime) of all owls and, since their preferred habitat is open grasslands, are one of the most easily seen of all owl species.
  • Are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
  • Typically eat rodents and small mammals, but also small birds and insects.
  • Have proved extremely valuable in helping to reduce rodent infestations in various parts of the world.
  • Have nests that are nearly always located on the ground, often in little depressions, with nothing to mark them except bent grasses and a few feathers.
  • Can – and will – walk distances away from the nest 14 to 17 days after hatching, but typically take about 30 days before they can fly.

 

Dayle Hopp is a Vernon-based BC Hydro public affairs research assistant.