Biologists track burrowing owls, a 'Species of Greatest Need' in Wyoming - Cheyenne, WY Cap City News
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Biologists track burrowing owls, a ‘Species of Greatest Need’ in Wyoming

Bird biologist Andrea Orabona (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

CASPER, Wyo. — Burrowing owls are considered a “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” in Wyoming, according to Wyoming Game and Fish bird biologist Andrea Orabona.

The burrowing owl use prairie dog and ground squirrel burrows for nests, according to Cornell University’s “All About Birds” website.

“Burrowing owls were once common across grasslands in the United States and Canada during the breeding season, but in some parts of their range, their population numbers and distribution has shrunk,” Orabona said on Thursday, April 2. “The burrowing owl is a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Wyoming, so we spend extra effort studying these animals to bolster their populations.”

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Volunteers helped fit six male and six female burrowing owls with transmitters across six locations in Wyoming in 2019. Orabona explains that this was part of a regional study involving 11 western states in the United States and three provinces in Canada.

“Since 2013, almost 100 adult burrowing owls have been captured and fitted with solar-powered transmitter ‘backpacks’ so we can follow their seasonal movements,” she said. “We call this a full annual life-cycle conservation project.”

Biologists tracking the Wyoming owls fitted in 2019 have learned the following, according to Orabona: 

-Two owls never left their breeding grounds so are likely dead.  

-Ten began migrating south from early August through late October; 1 stalled near Torrington and may be dead and 1 was found dead on a hay bale in Kansas.  

-Six of the remaining 8 owls wintered in Mexico. Three from western Wyoming migrated west of the Continental Divide, stopped over in Arizona to rest and refuel, and then wintered in western Mexico. Three from eastern Wyoming migrated east of the Continental Divide, stopped in eastern Colorado and northwestern Texas, and wintered in north-central and southern Mexico.

-The last 2 owls appear to have wintered in western Colorado, but their transmitters may have “shut off” when day length shortened.  We hope to get more information this spring.

-One female captured at her nest burrow north of Gillette traveled the furthest south of any owl in the entire study – 2,200 miles one-way!  She wintered in Mexico near Acapulco, and recently started spring migration.

Wyoming Game and Fish bird biologist Andrea Orabona

“So far we’ve learned that parts of Arizona, Colorado and Texas are important migratory stopover sites for owls that breed in Wyoming, and several states across Mexico are important wintering areas,” Orabona adds. “There are plans to deploy more transmitters across Wyoming in 2020.  Project results will help direct our conservation actions on the landscape.”

This article originally appeared on Oil City News. Used with permission.