Burrowing Owls

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					                                                                                             Fall 2009, Vol 21, Issue II

Burrowing Owls
 With less than 1,000 breeding pairs of this endangered prairie species remaining in Canada, the Burrowing Owl is listed as
 endangered. The Canadian Wildlife Service predicts that, unless its declining population trends are reversed, the Burrowing
 Owl will be extirpated within a few decades. Since 1995, Wildlife Preservation Canada has been bringing its expertise to the
 recovery efforts of the Burrowing Owl across the Canadian prairies. In 2005, WPC’s Aimee Mitchell helped introduce and
 compare our soft-release methods pioneered in Saskatchewan to the British Columbia Burrowing Owl recovery program and in
 2007, the soft-release technique was adopted by the team.
Steady progress is being made on the essential com-
ponents of the recovery program, reports Mike Mack-
intosh, the B.C. Burrowing Owl Society’s executive
director. The staff, and particularly volunteers, con-
tinue to make contributions toward the goal of creat-
ing healthy burrowing owl populations once again in
the province of British Columbia from which they
disappeared in the early 1970’s.
A third breeding facility is being constructed in Oliver,
B.C., the only facility to be equipped with snake fenc-
ing. The Oliver site has a large population of Western
Rattlesnakes, also a threatened species in B.C , some
of which are finding their way into the owl enclosures.
The protective barrier will safeguard the owls and the
                                                                                                           MIKE MACKINTOSH
staff at the new facility. Although all the owls are             last year. Over the winter we received word from a
currently released in the Nicola Valley, the third site          biologist in San Luis Obispo, California, that one of
will be important as the release work expands into the           our spring release birds was living on a ranch down
south Okanogan in the future.                                    there. This is a 2,000 km migration, the farthest
We had 15 birds return from migration - the same as              south that one of our owls has been sighted though
                                                                 burrowing owls banded in Saskatchewan were spotted
             Inside This Issue                                   in Texas and Mexico in 2001.

 Natural Turtle                                                   It was a good season for productivity in the field.
                        Birders Aid           New!
     Nests               Species             Hyaena              There were 213 young produced and banded from
   Surviving                                 Project             36 successful nests, compared to last year’s 26 nests
                                                                 producing 125 juveniles.

                                                                                                      Wildlife Preservation Canada
                                                           Letter from the President
                                                           While most of us enjoy the summer as time to travel and relax, for
               Gerald M. Durrell OBE                       our recovery teams working in the field, it is a time of long hours and
                        President                          devoted attention to the animals they are working so hard to save. It is a
                    H. Alec B. Monro
                                                           time to wait with baited breath for the birds to return from migration, for
                  Chris von Boetticher                     turtle and bird nests to be built and eggs laid, for hatchlings to emerge
                    Board of Trustees                      and grow. In this issue, read about two of our teams’ successes during
                 Christopher Boynton                       their busy season.
                   Michael Chisholm
                  Phillip Crookshank                       If the mail from our supporters is anything to go by, we have always
                      Craig Gilpin
                        Ian Glen
                                                           enjoyed reading about WPC’s work with the Burrowing Owl, one of the
                     Randal Heide                          species in which we have invested the longest time. Through the years
             Shirlee McEdwards Monteith                    we have expanded our program from Saskatchewan to British Columbia
                   H. Alec B. Monro
                    Patricia Phillips                      and are continually increasing our knowledge about this fascinating little
                   Dixie Quantanilla                       bird.
                      Kirk Sloane
                   Bridget Stutchbury                      From one of our oldest species to our newest.... New this year,
                 Chris von Boetticher
                                                           through our Canadian Collection program, WPC supported University of
                  Honourary Trustees
                   Louise Gervais                          Toronto MSc. student, Nancy Barker’s research on competition between
               Katherine B.P. Dempster                     two species of hyaena in South Africa. This entails a large amount of
                Graham F. Hallward
                  Anson R. McKim
                                                           faecal sampling - a scientist’s life is not a glamorous one!
                   William Noble
                  Richard Fyfe, OC
                                                           After her busy summer managing the field season and our Eastern Log-
                  Thomas C. Sears                          gerhead Shrike recovery team, Jessica Steiner, WPC’s Species Recovery
                Eleanor R. Clitheroe                       Biologist, took a well-deserved break to be married and enjoy a honey-
                  W. Paterson Ferns
                 Stephen T. Molson                         moon trip to Egypt. We congratulate her and wish her and her husband
                  William E. Stavert                       all the best in the future.
                  Lee Durrell, PhD.
                                                           I would also like to take this opporunity to thank all our donors, guests,
                     Executive Director
                                                           and volunteers who contributed to WPC’s biggest fundraiser of the year,
                     Elaine Williams
                                                           our annual dinner and auction, held November 4 at the University of
       ON THE EDGE is published three times a year
       by Wildlife Preservation Canada. Established in
                                                           Toronto Faculty Club. Over 100 guests enjoyed the opportunity to hear
       1985, WPC is a nonprofit charitable organisation    guest speaker Graeme Gibson, noted birder and author, as he read from
       (Reg. #89171 0535 RP0001) dedicated to saving
       critically endangered animal species from extinc-
                                                           his most recent book The Bedside Book of Beasts. Together, we succeeded
       tion. Contact us at:                                in raising almost $30,000 which will go directly to WPC’s mission to save
                   Wildlife Preservation Canada
                                                           endangered species in Canada and around the world.
                 RR #5, 5420 Highway 6 North
                     Guelph, ON N1H 6J2
                                                           As the days are shortening and darkening, I know that our team leaders
                       Tel: 519-836-9314
                         1-800-956-6608                    are enjoying a bit of a break from their hectic summer, analysing data and
                       Fax: 519-836-8840                   writing reports. This is also an important period for fundraising. Many
             email: admin@wildlifepreservation.ca
                   www.wildlifepreservation.ca             thanks to our supporters who have already donated this year, and I would
                                                           like to encourage those who have not yet renewed their support to do
                                                           so by year end. This will help us continue our important work in 2010!
                                                           Best wishes for the season and a prosperous 2010.

                                                           Alec Monro

Wildlife Preservation Canada                                             -2-
Natural Turtle Nests Surviving
 In this, the fifth year of Ryan M. Bolton’s efforts to save endangered and threatened turtles in Ontario, he is finding some
 surprising results. For the first time since the study began, natural turtle nests are found to be successfully producing hatchlings.
 Ryan reports below on his achievements and findings over the 2009 season.
Owing to an exceptionally wet season, turtle nesting
activity commenced at a much later date this year.
Despite this delay, many Spiny Softshell, Blanding’s,
Northern Map, and Common Snapping Turtle nests
were protected from human poaching and mam-
malian predation. The Common Snapping Turtle
was added to my nest protection work due to its
recent designation as ‘Special Concern’- an unfortu-
nate necessity in the present environmental state, but
a proactive approach to conservation that may signal
a shift in turtle protection the world over.
Since the nesting season was delayed, there was         Common Snapping Turtle
a corresponding delay in hatching times (the con-
stantly wet conditions keep nest temperatures low         methods ensure that a large number of nests hatch
and incubation requires more time). Nests were            that would have otherwise perished within the first 24
still hatching well into October; however, at least       hours of being laid.
800 Spiny Softshell, Blanding’s, Northern Map, and        Interestingly, 2009 was the first year since work com-
Common Snapping Turtle hatchlings were released           menced that saw successfully hatched natural nests!
into the ecosystem this year (bringing the total          These are nests that were not located by the research-
number of hatchling turtles released since 2005 close ers (it is impossible to find them all) and were also not
to 3,000!).                                               depredated, and managed to hatch successfully with-
Research supported by WPC in 2007, showed that the out assistance. There are many potential reasons why
most significant threat to freshwater turtle species at   this was observed. Perhaps the unusual climatic con-
my study site is increased nest predation as a result     ditions played a role, or perhaps the predator popula-
of unnaturally high predator populations, such as rac- tions were affected by disease. However, another
coons, skunks, opossums, coyotes, etc. To counteract potential (and quite plausible explanation) is that the
the impact of nearly 100% nest failure due to sub-        many years of nest protection has effectively removed
sidized predators (predators that survive at unnatu-      turtle eggs as a food source and the predators’ num-
rally high levels due to subsidies afforded to them by    bers have been reduced as a result. Although more
human activity), I developed four primary nest protec- research is required, it is likely that the positive impact
tion measures: in situ protection using individual wire of this work extends further than ensuring only pro-
cages that are placed directly over each nest, reloca-    tected nests survive!
tion of nests to a large-scale predator exclosure (a      With the continued assistance from Wildlife Preser-
protected communal hatchery in the natural environ-       vation Canada and its donors, mitigation work and
ment), moving nests to another part of the beach,         research focused on conserving turtle species will help
and artificial incubation in the lab. These four meth-    ensure their continued survival in an ever-changing
ods have their own inherent pros and cons, but all        world.

      Birders Part of Shrike Team in 2009
                                                                                             Jessica Steiner, Species Recovery Biologist
       A vital componenet of any endangered species recovery efforts is the participation of the local community, landowners and
       businesses. This past season, birding enthusiasts helped us search for the elusive shrike.

      Wild Population
      There was an increase observed in the wild population
      this year, with 31 pairs confirmed in Ontario: 18 in
      Carden, 9 in Napanee, 1 in Smiths Falls, 1 in Renfrew,
      and 2 in Grey-Bruce Counties. This is the largest
      the wild population has been in the last 7 years, and
      perhaps more importantly we have seen an increasing
      trend over the last 4 years. Pairs were observed
      in locations that had not previously had confirmed
      reports of shrikes, i.e. Fenelon Falls and South Bruce
      Peninsula. Twenty-two of these pairs successfully
      fledged a total of at least 81 young, which is compa-
      rable to previous years (27 pairs fledged at least 79
      young in 2008 and 21 pairs fledged 85 young in 2007).
                                                                        Eastern Loggerhead Shrike chick
      The survey effort this season was greatly enhanced                release bird. Two of the 4 Ontario release birds bred
      by a dedicated team of volunteers. Adopt-A-Site                   successfully this year.
      programs in Napanee and Carden (inaugural year)
                                                                        There was more intensive and frequent monitoring
      aided survey coverage of these important core areas.
                                                                        of this year’s breeding pairs as part of a study on
      As well this year, a pilot Grassland Bird Survey
                                                                        Territory-Use which will provide important informa-
      (GBS) was conducted in Ontario. The intent of the
                                                                        tion on shrike behaviour, territory size and use during
      GBS was to locate the majority of shrikes by provid-
                                                                        the breeding cycle.
      ing survey coverage by birders outside of Carden
      and Napanee and enhancing coverage within those 2                 Again this year an effort was made to trap all wild
      cores, and identify the suite of avian species typically          adults in order to determine individual identification
      associated with suitable shrike habitat. There were 66            and band newcomers. All wild adults banded this
      volunteers this year.                                             year received yellow over a silver ID band on the
                                                                        right leg as part of their unique 4-colour combination.
      This year saw the return to breeding grounds of 4
                                                                        We utilized new double-overlap Darvic colour bands
      Ontario captive-bred birds previously released from
                                                                        this season in an effort to improve band retention.
      the field breeding program, including one 3-year old
                                                                        As always we encourage birders to try and determine
      bird. The juvenile return rate of Ontario release
                                                                        band combinations on any shrikes spotted, and of
      birds this year was 1.9% (2 of 103 released in 2008),
                                                                        course report any sightings to us! (1-800-956-6608 or
      which is down from last year (6.4%) but well within
      the range reported for wild juvenile migratory shrikes.
      Of particular note this season was the confirmation               Field Breeding and Release
      of a 2008-release bird from Quebec’s captive breeding             The field breeding program maintained its momen-
      program, paired with a wild bird in Carden. This                  tum this year with another productive season. In
      is the first confirmation of the return of a Quebec               late April, 22 breeding pairs were transferred to our

Wildlife Preservation Canada                                      -4-
New! The Hyaena Project
 Nancy Barker is a Master’s candidate at the University of Toronto undertaking research on the competition between two species
 of hyaena that co-exist in the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa.
Glowing red eyes appear under the shine of the spot-
light in the distance and the hairs on the back of
my neck stand up. I become alert and wait quietly
and watch the strange loping creature come into view,
tense and wary, watchful for other predators. One
of the most elusive of all African predators, its large
pointed ears continually twitch for the slightest bit
of sound, with nose held high sniffing out unseen
dangers, the animal finally comes into view and I
recognize the ear notches on the left ear, the band
patterns on its legs and the blond mane around its
neck. A flicker of recognition, its Batty - one of the
brown hyaenas out of the eleven individuals in the
reserve whom I have come to know quite well - come
once more in the night to feed on the elephant carcass
that lay directly in front of me.
                                                                  One of the spotted hyenas with which Nancy became familiar.
I observe Batty (so named for its large, bat-like ears)
for a few minutes as it picks at the carcass and feeds            a year in the African veld studying the effects of
from it before using its powerful jaws to snap off a              competition between two co-existing hyaena species,
large piece of carrion, which it carries away into the            in the only game reserve in which the two species are
night. I record the time of appearance and length                 known to co-exist. The numerically abundant, never-
of stay, as well as the behaviours exhibited. I settle            theless heavily persecuted, spotted hyaena, which is
back into the driver’s seat of the 4x4 and wait once              the second largest African carnivore and its weaker
more.                                                             competitor, the highly elusive and endangered brown
Some time later under a cloudless and starry sky, a
clan of four spotted hyaenas boldly stalks out of the             The Hyaena Project, which is co-sponsored by Wild-
bush and heads straight for the carcass, taking no                life Preservation Canada and TD Canada Trust, aims
notice of me. I recognize the spot patterns on the                to determine the population densities of the co-exist-
individuals of this clan - Mama C, Chips, Half-Ear                ing hyaena species within the reserve and whether
and Cece have come to retrieve their share of the car-            they compete with one another in habitat and range
cass and I spend the night observing their interactions           utilization and prey preferences. Through the use of
with each other until they finally steal away under               latrine surveys, radio-telemetry, camera-trapping, and
the cover of darkness just at the moment before                   audio call-ins, the population densities for both spe-
the dawn. Satisfied with another successful night                 cies have been determined as well as their range and
of behavioural observations of brown and spotted                  habitat use within the reserve. From the behavioural
hyaenas, I head home to the research camp for a few               observations of their interactions with one another
hours of sleep before spending another day searching              at kills and carcasses, and through the many hours
for latrines and setting camera-traps. I spent nearly             of faecal analysis in the laboratory, their dietary com-
                                                                                                     ~ continued on page 6 ~

                                                            -5-                                        Wildlife Preservation Canada
      Shrike Team (continued from page 4)
      breeding and release sites (10 pairs to Dyer’s Bay and     (latitude/longitude) and a map can be created showing
      12 to Carden) and placed in individual field breeding      where the bird has been. This year 49 juvenile birds
      enclosures. Twenty of these pairs successfully bred,       were released with geolocators. It is hoped that 2-3
      including 9 second-clutches. The program saw 94            will return next spring so the data can be downloaded.
      juvenile shrikes released to the wild (69 in Carden and    Program Funding
      25 in Dyer’s Bay). A further 7 birds were retained for     WPC is grateful for the funding support for this year’s
      the captive population.                                    shrike recovery activities from the following sources:
      Geolocators                                                Canadian Wildlife Service, the Ontario Species at Risk
      Since winter 2006, we have been exploring the use          Stewardship Fund, WWF’s Species at Risk Recovery
      of radio-telemetry with our captive shrikes. Not           Fund for Ontario, the federal Habitat Stewardship
      only would radio-telemetry give us information on          Program, the Harold Crabtree Foundation and the
      post-release survival, dispersal and habitat use of our    Canadian Association of Zoo and Aquariums. We
      released birds, we had hoped it would help us find         are also grateful to Boisset Family Estates, makers of
      their migration routes and wintering grounds, a huge       French Rabbit wines, for providing the bridge funding
      knowledge gap for this species. Since 2007 we have         necessary to launch the field season.
      released 38 juveniles with live tags from our Carden
      site and they were tracked from the release site, by
      foot, ground vehicle and air. We saw a promising 75%
      survival pre-migration. However, even with aerial
      telemetry, we were not able to keep up with them
      during migration - they just move too quickly!
      In an effort to fill these crucial knowledge gaps,
      this year we are trying geolocators. This technology
      has only recently been made small enough for pas-
      serines. The device consists of a data logger and a
      light stalk which measures and records light. This
      data can then be translated into position information

      Hyaena Project (continued from page 5)
      ponents have been determined. Analysis of my           in light of the heightened competition it experiences
      field data has demonstrated a high degree of overlap   with the spotted hyaenas. As one of the quirks of
      between the two species, which results in heightened   doing fieldwork, one night after spending an entire
      competition for the same resources. As both hyaena     night searching in vain for the elusive brown hyaena,
      species scavenge from carrion and utilize whatever     I returned to the research camp only to find the
      resources are available to them, there also exists a   door to the kitchen ajar, the rubbish bin overturned,
      large degree of overlap in their dietary components    and muddy paw prints of the brown hyaena in the
      and prey content.                                      middle of the kitchen floor… I am hopeful that the
                                                             brown hyaenas will thrive and remain for many more
      As a result of this new information, better wildlife
                                                             years to come, continuing to reward us with the rare
      management decisions will be implemented within the
                                                             occurrence of the awe-inspiring sighting of such an
      reserve in order to better conserve the sustainability
                                                             amazing and elusive carnivore.
      and viability of the endangered brown hyaena species

Wildlife Preservation Canada                               -6-
2010 Calendar Endangered Reptiles and Amphibians of Canada
   WPC is pleased to once again offer a
calendar containing beautiful art photos of
  12 endangered Canadian reptiles and
           Order yours today.
Please send me ________ calendar(s)
$15.00 each = $ ________
Plus             $ 4.00   Shipping & Handling
TOTAL          $ ________
Paid by     Cheque  Mastercard  Visa
Card # _____________________________________
Ship to


City, Prov. PC._____________________________________

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                                                                      -7-                                              Wildlife Preservation Canada
      Burrowing Owl (continued from page 1)
                                                                    quite close together in these little owl “subdivisions”.
      In April, 123 captive-bred 11-month old owls were             With help from Wildlife Preservation Canada, the
      released. Pairs were released into soft release cages         program in British Columbia has grown over the past
      for the first two weeks to allow them to acclimatize          few seasons. There are more birds to monitor, more
      and hopefully initiate egg laying. The results for            places to visit and much more information to gather
      the last four years have shown that this approach             as we learn more about these fascinating little birds.
      is most effective, resulting in higher
      survival and higher numbers of young
      being raised. The remaining owls were
      released to burrows where returning
      migrants had been spotted, in the hope
      that some of these birds would mate
      in the wild.
      It’s often the seemingly simple little
      things we learn through direct obser-
      vation and record keeping that makes
      such a big difference. For example,
      the placement of the burrows seems
      to be important to their security -
      they greatly prefer having the entrances
      facing each other. Being quite social
      birds the larger families will often stick

                                   Wildlife Preservation Canada
                                   RR #5, 5420 Highway 6 North
                                   Guelph, ON N1H 6J2

Wildlife Preservation Canada                                  -8-

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