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October 12, 2023
In the vast expanse of Canada's grassland prairie, a small but remarkable bird species struggles for survival - the burrowing owl. These pint-sized owls, with their charmingly long legs, have a unique nesting habit that sets them apart from other owls. Unlike their tree-dwelling cousins, burrowing owls prefer to nest exclusively underground, taking over pre-existing burrows dug by other prairie species such as badgers, ground squirrels, swift foxes, coyotes, and prairie dogs. However, these charismatic birds are facing dire challenges, pushing them to the brink of extinction in Canada.
Once a common sight on the Canadian prairie, the burrowing owl has now been designated as an Endangered species in Canada under the Species at Risk Act. The population has dwindled to as few as 270-300 breeding owls, making them one of the most endangered bird species in the country's grassland prairies. Several factors contribute to this decline:
Despite these challenges, there is hope on the horizon. The Wilder Institute, in collaboration with partners like Calgary Heritage Roasting Company, is dedicated to supporting burrowing owls. A conservation technique known as "head-starting" offers a glimmer of hope for the species by aiming to bolster the wild population of burrowing owls in Canada.
So, how does head-starting work? It's a process designed to give the youngest owl from a nest, the one least likely to survive, a fighting chance. These young owls these owls are brought into human care for the winter season, where they receive protection and the care they need to grow into strong, healthy adults. The following year, these owls are released back onto the prairie, essentially giving them a head start in their quest for survival.
Once these owls are ready for release, they are paired up into male-female pairs and placed into artificial nest burrows similar to the one we helped refresh at the Archibald Biodiversity Centre but in the wild. These nests are meticulously monitored as the pair begins to lay and hatch the next generation of burrowing owls. As their nestlings grow and mature, they are carefully trapped and banded. These bands are more than just a fashion statement; they help researchers identify the owls that return the following spring and track their progress.
Some lucky head-started adult owls also receive satellite transmitters prior to release, which provides invaluable data about their movements, migration patterns, and wintering grounds. This technology helps scientists gain insights into the potential challenges owls may face at their wintering grounds.
The overarching goal of these efforts is to boost the survival rates of young burrowing owls during a challenging stage of life. By releasing them as potential breeders onto Canadian nesting grounds the following spring, this project increases their chances of contributing to the species' population. This hands-on approach is a testament to the dedication and innovation of conservationists in their quest to protect these unique owls.
Here at Calgary Heritage Roasting Co. we were proud to take part in this impactful work for a species at risk, right here at home. Contributing towards our 2% For Conservation Certification, our teams time through volunteer efforts has very real impact on the futures of these birds. As well as our time, we are also providing monetary benefit through proceeds that come from the sale of our C Heritage Co. X Wilder Institute Burrowing Owls Sweaters and Snapback Hats! So, if you are looking for a way to give back and turn heads, pick up one of these stylish items online or in store!https://wilderinstitute.org/ for more information on other programs and how to get involved.
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