The Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program (MBORP) is facing funding challenges. It could close by year’s end, and within the decade, Manitoba’s burrowing owl population could disappear along with it.
In 2012, there were only ten owls recorded in Manitoba. In response, the recovery program was initiated in 2013 by Project Manager Alex Froese.
Froese says they rely entirely on public and private sources of funding. However, in the last three seasons, those sources have been declining.
“Without private donations and the private sector, I don’t think we can continue. I don’t foresee an increase in public funding over 2020 and 2021.”
Assiniboine Park Zoo is a project partner. They house the owls over the winter months, provide veterinary support, and genetic testing to avoid inbreeding. The support equals to approximately $45 thousand in-kind.
Also, around $100,000 is needed yearly to keep the recovery program going, and it covers staffing costs, milage from surveys, and supplies for burrows and feeding.
The recovery program comprises three pillars, reintroduced through the hatch and release program, collection research on the owls’ distribution and nesting behaviours, and education and community engagement.
“I think we do a good job on our social media,” says Froese. “We post a lot during the field season to get people interested in burrowing owls and grassland conservation. Having our imprinted owls at educational events goes a long way too. Many people don’t know what a burrowing owl is or haven’t seen one, and I think there’s a connection when you see what you’re trying to save.”
There are several contributing factors to the decline of Manitoba’s burrowing owl populations. Insects contribute to nearly 80 percent of the owls’ diet, and when wet and cold seasons happen, those food sources decline. Other factors involved in endangerment are increased vehicle collisions, habitat converted into farmland, and a loss of burrowing animal species.
“That’s a common misconception, and it’s even in their name, burrowing owl, and you think they can burrow. They can’t and require species like badgers, foxes, and ground squirrels to dig burrows that the owls will take over.”
With less land for potential burrows and fewer digging species, when the owls arrive in Manitoba after migration, they can’t find any suitable nests. That’s where the program comes in. Froese says they reintroduce matured captive owls into the wild to stimulate the population and create artificial nests safe from predators for the owls to lay their eggs. If the program can’t continue their efforts, the Manitoba’s burrowing owl population won’t last as they are conservation dependent.
The program is working on a fundraiser in partnership with the Souris Watershed District, held all June. Through Canada Help, Froese says each donation they received will enter their name into a draw, giving the organization the chance to win a $20 thousand grand prize.
The prize would be a great benefit to the organization and help them continue the work they do, preserving one of Manitoba’s most unique owl species.