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Home Sweet (Wild) Home – 100th Owl Returns to the Prairies

May 9, 2023

The 100th burrowing owl took its first steps back onto Canada’s prairies after spending the winter under expert care at the Wilder Institute. With burrowing owls distributed in less than one-third of their historical range in Canada, conservation efforts are urgently needed for this small grassland owl.  

“100 marks a big milestone for our team,” said Graham Dixon-McCallum, Conservation Research Population Ecologist at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo. “Left in the wild, without intervention, we estimate only 6 of these 100 owls would have returned to nest in Alberta over the last seven years, and many would not have survived their first winter.”

This release of burrowing owls is part of an ambitious conservation program. In the wild, the youngest owlets only have a 2-3% chance of surviving to leave the nest and returning to Canada after migration. Since 2016, the Wilder Institute has brought the last-to-hatch owlets under their care to help give them a fighting chance to survive. 

While at the Wilder Institute’s conservation facility, burrowing owls are provided daily care by animal care technicians and their health and body condition are monitored by veterinarians. 

“There’s nothing quite like watching the owls enter their prairie burrows knowing we’ve given them a better chance at survival,” said Colleen Baird, Interim Associate Director of Animal Care & Welfare at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo. 

Conservation researchers will release the owls in male-female pairs when they are adults with the hope they will go on to contribute their offspring to the number of burrowing owls in Canada. The owls will have a slow transition back to the wild, they are released into artificial burrows, installed by the team, and will have an enclosure over the burrow while they acclimate to their new surroundings and begin nesting. The owls are also provided with food to ease their transition back to the wild. 

While the owls still face challenges back in their wild homes, the head-starting program allows the owls to bypass a very risky life stage and works to increase the likelihood of them breeding in Canada. 80% of pairs released through this program have had successful nests of their own and the team looks forward to seeing the owls released this spring fledging owlets this summer. 

The Wilder Institute is proud to collaborate with Environment and Climate Change Canada and Alberta Environment and Protected Areas on this project and is thankful to local landowners and Canadian Forces Base Suffield in Alberta for allowing us to work on their land. The success of this critical program would not have been possible without their continued support. Learn more about head-starting over at www.WilderInstitute.com/burrowing-owl. 


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