RESEARCH

SHORT-EARED OWL

PROJECT OUTLINE

Phase 1: Monitoring of Short-eared Owls in southern Ontario


Purpose:
The Short-eared Owl population has been in decline over the last few decades.  It is a species of Special Concern in Canada, and has recently been recommended for the same status in Ontario.  Very little is known about the speciesí movements and reproductive success in Ontario.  Such information is critical in supporting future conservation and population management efforts.

Objectives:
The main objectives are to document the nesting habitat requirements, assess reproductive success, and track seasonal movements of Short-eared Owl in Ontario and adjacent states and provinces.

In summer, MRF aims to:

  • Survey historical breeding areas to identify the size and distribution of the current southern Ontario breeding population
  • Provide written and photographic documentation of the habitat at all active nest sites to allow for other potentially suitable habitat to be recognized and protected
  • Observe nesting success and nestling mortality, where possible
  • Equip both adult and juvenile owls with leg bands for future population monitoring
  • Obtain blood samples for contaminant analysis by the Canadian Wildlife Service
  • Engage landowners in research activities and encourage stewardship actions

In winter, MRF aims to:

  • Survey known and historical wintering areas to identify the size and distribution of the current southern Ontario wintering population
  • Equip both adult and juvenile owls with leg bands for future population monitoring
  • Obtain blood samples for contaminant analysis by the Canadian Wildlife Service

Methods:
A key priority of this project is to annually locate active nest sites.  Experienced birders from a variety of local and province-wide clubs and associations have been asked to assist with this work, and a call for volunteers has been issued.  Observers are asked to primarily survey areas for which historical breeding evidence exists, but are also encouraged to search for Short-eared Owls in and around their own communities if they believe suitable habitat exists in the area.

The principal areas in which surveys have been targeted are Almonte (Lanark), Navan and Gloucester (Ottawa), Rockland and Alfred (Prescott & Russell), Alexandria and Maxville (Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry), Wolfe Island (Frontenac), and Amherst Island (Lennox and Addington).  More limited effort has also been devoted to areas in southwestern Ontario, especially along the Niagara Peninsula and in Haldimand-Norfolk, but additional volunteer support in that area would be welcome to expand coverage.

Once active territories have been identified, MRF contacts all landowners on whose property Short-eared Owls have been sighted.  Where permission is granted, MRF visits each of these sites to provide the landowner with information about the Short-eared Owl, and to conduct a detailed assessment of the habitat being used for nesting. 

Where possible, MRF subsequently returns to active nests and attempts to capture and band as many of the owls as possible for future monitoring.  Blood samples are taken from all birds caught.  The Canadian Wildlife Service will use the blood for contaminant and biomarker analysis. 

The birding community is asked to contribute throughout the fall and winter by reporting sightings of any banded owls, which will help establish movement patterns and links between breeding and wintering habitats.  Further details on the banding protocols used and observations requested will be posted on the MRF website as the program develops.

In winter, MRF and volunteers primarily visit sites at which Short-eared Owls are known to congregate.  As logistics, funding, and weather constraints permit, individuals will again be banded for future monitoring.

Partners and supporters:
MRF gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, as well as the contributions of the many other partners and supporters below who have made this project possible:

Click here for information about Phase Two of the Short-eared Owl research program

© 2002- The Migration Research Foundation Inc.