Life at the zoo working to rear the conservation animals has become routine now. I am totally comfortable checking for butterfly eggs, feeding frogs, and scrubbing turtle tubs. Andrea, thankfully, keeps my mind sharp by continually securing new learning experiences for me, sometimes even outside of the framework of the Fraser Valley Wetlands Wildlife Project.
One such instance was a few weeks ago when we took a day trip to Kamloops to attend a couple of burrowing owl tagging sessions! Andrea’s friend Lauren Meads, the director of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC, invited us to watch and learn.
Burrowing owls were extirpated in BC in 1979. They don’t dig their own burrows but use and modify those made by larger animals like badgers. The expansion of agricultural land use in burrowing owl habitat led to the disappearance of these large digging animals. Since burrows are essential for the owls to nest, roost and rear young, their new non-existence made it impossible for burrowing owls to endure in BC.
The efforts to reintroduce burrowing owls in BC involve setting up artificial burrows with captive bred owl pairs. When I visited the project, the team were tagging the offspring of those breeding pairs. The owlets were just a couple months old, nearing adult size but still down feathered and not yet spotted. They were soooooo cute.
The tagging process started by slowly pushing a plug through the burrow opening and towards the capped end. The little birds were picked up there, transferred to a kennel and taken a couple meters away from the burrow, so the biologists could work without being disturbed by flustered owl parents. The biologists took each owlet, wrapped them in a “burrowing owl burrito”, secured metal tags to each leg, and recorded their weights and measurements.
The tags placed on those tiny legs will help track the owls. When biologists or citizen scientists see tagged burrowing owls in the wild, they can jot down the tag i.d. and report the sighting to the project. Thusly the program can deduce the owl’s movements and determine if the owls are returning home to BC!
I had fun and learned a lot that day, including that I should show up in long pants to do burrowing owl work, which was evident to my companions but unbeknownst to me. The forecast was sunny so I wore shorts. Upon arriving I was advised to wear something on my legs to avoid ticks in the tall grass. My final look, mosquito pants tucked into boots over jean shorts, garnered many a quizzical glance, but I definitely rocked it.
Project Assistant, Fraser Valley Wetlands Wildlife
LoyaltyOne Young Conservation Leader