Two Simple Tricks That Help Owls Stay in Their New Homes

When it comes to wildlife, the western burrowing owl is a tolerant neighbor of humans. When new houses and roads are built next to the ...


When it comes to wildlife, the western burrowing owl is a tolerant neighbor of humans. When new houses and roads are built next to the tunnels they inhabit, these owls put up with the noise and continue to hunt the insects and rodents they eat. But owls are increasingly on a collision course with humanity.

Developers are always looking for more land to build on, and in places like Southern California, that means moving into owl habitats. To date, most builders have moved owls by collapsing their burrows, forcing them to find a new place to live nearby. Even so, in highly urbanized environments, birds often have nowhere to go, jeopardizing the future of the species.

As a result, wildlife officials working with developers are increasingly collecting and transplanting owls to new, remote areas that conservationists believe will meet their needs. However, the evidence that this technique works is slim. A new research published on Thursday in Animal Conservation magazine shows that it can be very effective if the birds are tricked into thinking that there are already other burrowing owls near where they are transplanted.

Ronald Swaisgood of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, a member of the research team that produced the report, knew the developers were setting aside land for the relocated birds, but noted there was little follow-up work on how which the owls wore.

“No one had a clue if these mitigations were even working,” he said.

Aware that the birds were considered to be listed as endangered in California, Dr. Swaisgood was keen to intervene. He and other conservationists felt like nothing was going to stop real estate development, which included new solar power farms. Given the complex situation, he and his team collaborated with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct an experiment with owls that were on land that was to be bulldozed in the greater San Diego area.

To understand if the owl transplants were effective, the researchers installed special doors on the colonies’ burrows that allowed the owls to leave but not return. Once the owls emerged, the 44 were collected and moved to a new location that already had burrows for them. To help these transferred owls cope, they were kept in acclimation pens for 30 days before being released. Of this group, half were exposed to a bit of trickery.

Researchers knew from previous work with other species, such as black rhinos, vultures and kangaroo rats, that animals are more likely to settle when they are tricked into believing that members of their species are nearby.

With that in mind, for half the birds, the team splattered non-toxic white latex paint on the rocks around the burrows in the new location that looked like bird poo. They did this because burrowing owls tend to defecate near burrow entrances, and this technique makes sites look inhabited. To further support this illusion, an outdoor loudspeaker was installed at these sites to periodically broadcast burrowing owl calls during the week before the animals were released from their acclimation enclosures and during the following week.

All this ecological duplicity has paid off. The 22 birds that were moved to sites with white paint and cries settled in quickly while the other 22 owls all wandered off, often making perilous journeys of more than five miles before finding suitable habitat.

The results are warmly welcomed by other environmentalists.

The idea of ​​transplants has long created a dilemma for experts in the field of ecology, said Dan Blumstein, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study.

“There’s been this assumption that if endangered animals are just moved somewhere else they’ll be fine, but that’s clearly not always true,” he said. “Experiments like this are key to determining what works and what doesn’t.”

Dr Blumstein and Dr Swaisgood both hope to see the transplants of other species studied in the same way to ensure that the good intentions of scientists do not lead to unnecessary hardship for species that are already on the brink. .

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Newsrust - US Top News: Two Simple Tricks That Help Owls Stay in Their New Homes
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