Owls Scud and Shania with their chick, Dante, born in 2017, at Langley’s Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program facility. (Photo contributed)

Owls Scud and Shania with their chick, Dante, born in 2017, at Langley’s Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program facility. (Photo contributed)

‘Best breeding season yet’ expected for B.C.’s endangered owls

The rare northern spotted owl is being bred at a conservation program near Fort Langley

A new generation of endangered owls is expected to hatch soon in a conservation centre nestled in the hills near Fort Langley.

“We’re looking forward to what seems like our best breeding season yet,” said Jasmine McCulligh, the facility coordinator for the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program.

For 10 years, the BC Conservation Foundation has been painstakingly working to bring back the endangered owls from the brink of extinction in this province.

The centre raises and feeds their owls in large netted enclosures, big enough to allow the owls to fly and even to hunt live prey at times.

Now with five breeding pairs, including two that are new this year, McCulligh says things are looking up for the program.

She can’t say exactly how many eggs have hatched this year yet. The program is planning to make a major announcement as early as this weekend.

If things go well, it could mean northern spotted owls being reintroduced to the wild, for the first time since the program began, as early as next year to a few years from now.

The breeders include Jay and Bella, a captive-born pair that recently bonded, and Azalea and Einstein, who were brought to the centre as juveniles.

Although the owls are in captivity, they rarely interact with or even see their keepers, McCulligh said.

“We are very hands-off with them,” she said.

The adults get a check-in every morning, with the keepers scoping them out, to ensure they are dry and have clear eyes, “like a normal healthy owl.”

They get another check in at feeding time, and other than that they are left to their own devices.

Other than that, the main method of watching the owls is through cameras, with four to each enclosure including one directly above each nest.

That becomes important for the breeding pairs around March, when eggs are laid.

The eggs incubate for about 32 days, with the female staying on nest all day and night, with only a brief 20 minute break to defecate.

The male brings food to keep her going during the incubation period.

However, for the spotted owls in the Langley centre, things aren’t what they seem. The owls are brooding over robotic eggs.

To give them the best shot at hatching, staff remove the eggs from the nest and place them in incubators.

The parents receive robotic sensor eggs in return, which measure temperature and humidity in the nests, said McCulligh.

“She’s not too concerned about the difference in the eggs,” McCulligh said.

Staff at the centre watch over the eggs as they hatch, and then hand-feed each chick for about 10 days to give them a “head start” during a period when they’re highly susceptible to bacterial infection.

Then the chicks go back in the nest.

If the parents are surprised by the appearance of 10-day-old chicks, it doesn’t seem to last for long.

“I guess they think, ‘Oh, you did the hard part for me,’” said McCulligh.

Staff have even successfully introduced chicks that weren’t hatched by those parents. A three-week-old abandoned chick found in the wild was once successfully raised by a breeding pair at the centre.

The young owls leave their parents in the fall, removed to their own enclosures just before they would fly away under their own steam in the wild.

The owls are distributed around 21 enclosures spread over 25 acres.

In the wild, McCulligh said a pair of spotted owls would have as much as 30 square kilometres of territory, and there would never be 25 owls all gathered in one place.

But here, the staff largely worry about keeping dominant males far enough apart that they don’t bother one another.

Food for the owls is less than appetizing from a human point of view.

“We breed our own rats and mice on site,” said McCulligh, and they also provide dead chicks at times.

Multiple times a year, they release live rodents into the enclosures, so the owls continue to hunt.

“The hunting instinct is pretty strong in them,” she said.

The long term goal of the program, which is funded by the BC Ministry of Forests and Lands, is to start releasing the owls into the wild.

With 20 adults now, that could happen as soon as next year if things go well with the current crop of hatchlings.

If too many owlets don’t survive, it could be a few more years.

With the big announcement upcoming, the program is also hoping to raise some more money for its operations with its Adopt An Egg program.

“We’re actually a bit short of our goal,” McCulligh said.

People who donate $20 to symbolically adopt an egg get email updates and info about the progress of ‘their’ egg.

ConservationLangley

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Owls Scud and Shania with their chick, Dante, born in 2017, at Langley’s Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program facility. (Photo contributed)

Owls Scud and Shania with their chick, Dante, born in 2017, at Langley’s Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program facility. (Photo contributed)

Just Posted

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Delta Police dog retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

In 2017, a member of the Disneyana Fan Club curated a small Community Treasures exhibit at the Museum of Surrey about the early days of Disney and the cartoonist Walt Disney. The museum is now accepting applications for its 2022 Community Treasures exhibition. (Photo: Submitted)
Museum of Surrey wants to spotlight local organizations and clubs

Museum now accepting applications for its 2022 Community Treasures exhibit

Pindie Dhaliwal, one of the organizers for the Surrey Challo protest for Indian farmers. She says organizers were told by Surrey RCMP that the event was not allowed due to COVID-19. Organizers ended up moving the protest to Strawberry Hill at the last minute. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Indian farmers rally moves as organizers say Surrey RCMP told them they couldn’t gather

Protest originally planned in Cloverdale, moved to Strawberry Hill

Musician Dana Vande is seen in a screenshot from a music video on Youtube. Vande recently released a pro-lockdown track in response to an Eric Clapton and Van Morrison anti-lockdown track.
Cloverdale musician writes pandemic response song to Van Morrison and Eric Clapton

Dana Vande answers a Clapton-Morrison anti-lockdown track with a pro-lockdown track

Surrey RCMP Constable Mike Della-Paolera as seen in a cut-out used for the detachment’s Operation Double Take program. (File photo)
Surrey’s tall ‘Operation Double Take’ cop is on the move

Cut-out of Constable Mike Della-Paolera used in program to curb speeding and dangerous driving

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Canada released proposed regulations Jan. 2 for the fisheries minister to maintain Canada’s major fish stocks at sustainable levels and recover those at risk. (File photo)
New laws would cement DFO accountability to depleted fish stocks

Three B.C. salmon stocks first in line for priority attention under proposed regulations

Trees destroyed a Shoreacres home during a wind storm Jan. 13, 2021. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay woman flees just before tree crushes house

Pamala DeRosa is thankful to be alive

Most Read