Andrew Bryant – “The operation was successful (sort of): reintroducing Burrowing Owls, 1989-90”

Andrew Bryant – “The operation was successful (sort of): reintroducing Burrowing Owls, 1989-90”
by Lois Bridger, 22 Nov 2018.

Andrew provided a humorous look at the hands-on, and sometimes very labour-intensive methods needed to reintroduce a species.   The Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) is one of only four species officially listed as “endangered” or “threatened” under the BC Wildlife Act.  They were considered “extirpated” from the province by the late 1970s.

The first reintroductions occurred at Vaseux Lake in 1983 and 1984.  Later ones took place near Osoyoos.  Andrew worked on Burrowing Owls for two years – while struggling to finish his thesis at the University of Calgary and simultaneously chasing marmots on Vancouver Island!

Burrowing Owls rely upon other burrowing animals such badgers.  With much of the area being farmed, there are now fewer of those than there once were.  Artificial burrows can solve that problem.  Andrew and his team had to work in a treacherous environment as they crossed paths with rattlesnakes, fires, ticks and the particularly hazardous spines of cactus!  The work could also be demanding, as they had to dig out the burrows in order to access the owlets.  One burrow entrance was a whopping 22 feet long – not easy work on a hot summer day!

The process of gaining the required permission from Washington State was an enormous undertaking – not to mention the paperwork involved in transporting owls across the border. Andrew had to first survey the owls in Washington State in order to collect the owl families for the reintroduction project.  Occasionally there were fatalities which were always heart wrenching whether they happened during transportation or due to predators (mostly coyotes, weasels and other owls) after the reintroduction.  Habituation pens in Osoyoos did increase success but losses still occurred.

The population did increase but not enough to make the population viable, and after the project ended in 1990 the numbers again declined.

The story, however, doesn’t end there.  Andrew recently discovered that a group of volunteers (Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC) has been again trying to reintroduce the burrowing owls.  With their improved design for artificial burrows they are having some success.

So with the perseverance of many there is still hope that the Burrowing Owls will make a comeback!