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The effects of release techniques on the reproductive performance and post-fledging juvenile survival of captive-bred Western Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia hypugaea) in the Nicola Valley, British Columbia Mitchell, Aimee Marie

Abstract

Reintroduction of captive-bred Western Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia hypugaea) in the Nicola Valley, British Columbia, has had limited success in increasing the local breeding population. Traditionally, yearling captive-hatched Burrowing Owls that were paired and released into artificial burrows in the field, held overnight, and provided with supplemental food throughout the breeding season (hard release) have had high post-release dispersal and mortality. In 2005 and 2006, I used an alternative soft-release technique to test for an improvement upon the hard-release technique. The soft release followed the same procedure as the traditional hard release but also included enclosures around burrow entrances to contain the owls for a 2-week period in the field prior to release. I compared immediate post-release dispersal, seasonal survival, and reproductive success for 37 hard-released and 30 soft-released pairs. I radio-tagged 39 of these released owls in order to accurately monitor their activities, regardless of whether they remained at release sites or dispersed. The soft-release technique led to 20% more owls remaining at the release sites, 14% more owls surviving the breeding season, and 20% more owl pairs fledging juveniles. In addition to investigating adult survival and reproductive success, I examined post-fledging juvenile survival, local recruitment, and habitat use, and adult prey consumption behaviour in order to assess the potential of these aspects to limit the success of the reintroduction. Survival and local recruitment rates of the juveniles of captive-bred adults released with two different techniques were similar to that of juveniles of wild adults in the same study area or in other parts of the Burrowing Owl's range. Juvenile habitat-selection analyse sidentified the importance of rangeland, and comparisons of prey consumption revealed the rapid development of foraging abilities by captive-bred Burrowing Owls. I concluded that these aspects of the owl's ecology were not negatively affected by a captive upbringing, and therefore not likely limiting the success of the reintroduction. Overall, the use of an enclosure-based soft-release technique addresses major limitations to the success of releases, and shows promise for increasing the breeding population in this region. This approach can also be applied to recovery efforts throughout the Burrowing Owls' range, and provide guidelines for other species' reintroduction programs.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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