Burrowing owl experts gather in Mid-Columbia
Article Date: 2009-05-21 Source: http://www.thenewstribune.com
By John Trumbo
Umatilla, Oregon, U.S.A. - Experts from across the U.S. attending a burrowing owl symposium today in
Umatilla may outnumber the species' dwindling population in the Mid-Columbia.
Thirty-five wildlife specialists who are concerned about the future for the
diminutive owls will talk about why they believe the endangered bird seems to be
losing habitat and population across the Western U.S. and Canada.
The symposium will be held at the Umatilla Chemical Depot in Umatilla, which has
an active burrowing owl preservation program, and one of the main speakers is
owl researcher David H. Johnson, executive director of the Global Owl Project
based in Alexandria, Va. The session is not open to the public.
"This is all about advancing the science and conservation for burrowing owls,"
Johnson said Tuesday. Of critical concern is that burrowing owls' known habitat
in the western U.S. and Canada is steadily shrinking, but wildlife biologists in
both countries aren't sure why.
Burrowing owls -- a species distinct to the Americas -- have been known to nest
in areas from Saskatchewan, Canada, south through the Dakotas and western
Oklahoma and Texas into Mexico, while reaching westward into California, Oregon
The birds, which stand about 10 inches tall, use vacant animal burrows for their
nests and usually are found in grasslands and desert areas such as the
Mid-Columbia shrub-steppe. They primarily feed on insects and small animals.
Johnson said despite 80 years of banding burrowing owls in an attempt to follow
their life cycle and travels, there is scant data to study.
Fewer than 400 of the banded birds have been recovered since the 1920s, which is
not enough over such a long period to provide meaningful information.
With a life span of about seven years, burrowing owls provide researchers too
little time for an effective "catch-band/release-recapture method" of tracking
the birds' habits.
Heidi Newsome, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
McNary Refuge Office, said researchers do field surveys every spring to check on
known burrowing owl nesting sites on the 195,000-acre Hanford Reach National
Monument. There are 84 known sites in the survey's database, but most are
abandoned, destroyed or unused for several years.
"The number of burrows we check annually is the same, but the number that are
occupied keeps going down. Now we have five," Newsome said.
That's not news to Johnson, who said: "It's the same in Colorado."
Mike Livingston, district wildlife biologist for the Washington Department of
Fish and Wildlife, said one thing is obvious. "Fewer juveniles are coming back
The situation is critical in Canada, where Johnson said the known population of
burrowing owls has been dropping 16 percent a year for years.
"As to the cause, that still a big question," he said.
Johnson has been studying owls for 33 years. Ten years were for agencies in
Washington and another 10 in Oregon. As executive director of the Global Owl
Project, he said he keeps in touch with owl researchers in 86 countries, "from
the United Kingdom to China."
Some of those faraway experts will be listening and participating via high-tech
Today's meeting will try to find some answers.
One of the experts is Courtney Conway, a biologist at the University of Arizona
who previously was at Washington State University in the Tri-Cities and worked
as a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey.
"We've had about 15 percent of our burrows destroyed annually in the
Tri-Cities," he told the Herald in 2003.
At that time, Conway said he and research assistants had been able to monitor
about 100 nests a year in the Tri-Cities and had banded more than 200 adult owls
during a four-year period.
But Newsome's more recent numbers reflect a dramatic decline over the past six
Speakers this afternoon will talk about burrowing owl projects in Idaho and
Washington, as well as what has been done to aid owls at the Umatilla Chemical
Depot and Boardman Bombing Range.
Newsome will report on owls in the Hanford Reach/Saddle Mountain area.
Johnson will discuss new technology that could help track burrowing owls, the
success of artificial burrows, and various mapping projects across the owls'
extensive Western range.
Disclaimer: This article has been reproduced from http://www.thenewstribune.com and placed here for comment.
OwlPages.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any information in this article, and does not necessarily agree with the author's opinions.
2010-06-21 - Burrowing owls make comeback at Umatilla depot by Kevin McCullen - Umatilla, Oregon, U.S.A.
2009-05-04 - Abandoned owls have home near Benton City by John Trumbo - Benton City, Washington, U.S.A.
2008-10-26 - Burrowing owls find a friend in the Army by Bruce Henrickson - Umatilla, Oregon, U.S.A.
2005-04-05 - Young and homeless by John Trumbo - Kennewick, Washington, U.S.A.
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