This area is for general discussion on Birds and Birding.
OWL posted this message with a photo of some of the deceased birds on Instagram today:

"We have been seeing many Barn Owls recently that are not doing very well. So far this year we have received around 43 barn owls into care and sadly many of them have not made it. Barn owls struggle more than other owl species in the winter when they are not able to find sufficient food, rodenticide use greatly affects them as poisoned rodents are easier to catch, and the owls sometimes breed any time there is a warm front and prey around, then if there is a cold snap they fail to thrive.

Here is a photo of one day when we had five barn owls that didn't make it.
Please share to educate about the detrimental effects of rat and mouse poison on predators. We also encourage farm owners to put up nesting boxes to provide shelter, we have boxes available at O.W.L."

Pretty heartbreaking, I hope they recover from this huge loss in population this winter. They were threatened to begin with in their northern end of the range, so a loss like this is shattering.

Sad indeed. Jeremiah Kennedy posted about this very topic today on Vanbcbirds:

"Hi Everyone,

There has been a lot of hot debate recently fueled by some Barn Owl fatalities and human-owl interactions. 43 Barn Owls have been found dead this year a reported to OWL. This doesn’t count all the mortalities or the birds being rehabbed so likely the number is quite a bit higher. Developments, such as the delta port access road, increased urbanization in Richmond and conversion of farm fields into housing and green houses in Delta and Ladner have reduced foraging habitat for hawks, falcons and owls around Metro Vancouver significantly. Impacts from habitat loss from these sources, rodenticide poisoning and shooting/relocating owls at the airport have all had major impacts on Short-eared and Barn Owl populations in particular in the Lower Mainland. Some of these impacts have been explored by Sofi Hindmarch’s research (which can be found online). We have historically boasted some of the largest wintering raptor populations in Canada, but many of the nocturnal birds of prey that call this area home go under the radar. Their declines are often not noted until it’s too late (ie Western Screech-Owl), but for birds like Short-eared and Barn Owls we know the declines are occurring yet we seem un-interested in changing our behaviours. Forced into smaller and smaller habitats these birds are increasingly sensitive to disturbance. At one point chasing a Short-eared or Barn Owl may have had little impact on their day and on the population as a whole, but with an increase in this behaviour, a decline in habitat available and major drops in populations of these owls this is no longer the case. I know that by even mentioning this FACT I will be receiving many angry emails and some cyber abuse that (recently) has gone waaaaay overboard, but please read the rest of what I have to say before you call me every name under the sun.

Here are a few things that you can do as a birder or bird photographer that can help the owls that we share this city with.

1) Nocturnal Owl surveys – This long-term data set helps us track breeding populations over many years and pick up declines before it’s too late. Sign up for a transect online or start your own.

2) Submit your lists to ebird and get out owling during the Christmas Bird Count –Drive ladner roads at night and ebird your Owl lists. Adding owling hours to your Christmas Bird Count can be hugely important. Christmas Bird Count data was used to track Declines in Western Screech-Owls and increases in Barred Owls to help list the former under COSEWIC.

3) Be a responsible observer – This one is big and is something that every nature lover should do. Some of the places where these birds are spending time are some of the last available habitat for them and if we chase them around continuously we can greatly impact their ability to feed and survive the winter (a tough time for these birds). Stick to the paths at Boundary Bay, Brunswick Point and the Sea Island Conservation area, not only because it’s the law, but also because if you don’t you are trampling feeding habitat and not letting birds feed properly. Over time (because there are so many of us) our behaviours as observers can have lasting impacts. Call a Conservation Officer if you see someone harassing wildlife out here and feel free to send license plates in so that repeat offenders stop pushing the few owls we have left around.

4) Push your municipality – Calling in or writing to your local MLA or Mayor’s office can have more of a impact than you might think. Make your voice heard for the owls because they can’t speak up for themselves and as wildlife observers and nature lovers and birders and listers and twitchers it’s our responsibility to be there for what brings us joy. Expansions at YVR are still underway and calling or writing in to say why it is important that we don’t level the last foraging habitat for owls in that area can really help.

We may not all have dedicated our lives to studying and conserving owls, but as birders and bird photographers we need to work together to protect the wildlife that we derive joy from. I can tell you 100 times that your actions simply observing or photographing an owl can impact it’s day and sometimes its survival, but it’s up to you to make the change. We can all make this change, so take a chance make responsible owling your new favourite thing!"

-Jeremiah Kennedy

I agree fully with him but just wanted to say something about his point #2) in regards to reporting owls to ebird. I strongly believe that for sensitive owls (and/or roosting or nesting birds) that they should not be reported right away to ebird but submitted after the owl has left the area or after owl season is over. This way the owl is prevented from human disturbance.
The other option for people who want to report it right away (so they don't forget) is to submit it to ebird and hide the checklist from public view. They then can go back at a later date and make that checklist public when the owl has left.

A sad story but at least the Barn Owl is nearly cosmopolitan with the widest range of any owl species. Spotted Owls are even more threatened in BC but will likely hang on in canyons in Western States and Mexico where they eat wild rats instead of old growth West Coast forest flying squirrels.
Yep John. Sad to say it but I feel it is over for the critically endangered Northern Spotted Owl in BC. They were totally mismanaged by the government and they woke up when it was too late, that's why we lost them. When I saw one in the wild it was magical but at the same time I definitely had tears in my eyes, as it felt like I was looking at a ghost.

Very sad indeed.

On an at least SOMEWHAT brighter note: I have seen Short Eared Owls far more regularly this year than ever before. Most of you probably know where these are but I am a bit nervous about writing about it. A couple of photographs:



I can imagine that they also struggled when everything was covered with snow and ice for extended periods this winter but at least they seem to be doing relatively OK. Fingers crossed....
My friend John Reynolds posted some interesting things about the federal status of Barn Owls today on Vanbcbirds. The exact same thing is happening with the federal status of Western Screech Owls as well, with the discrepancy between the current SARA (special concern) and COSEWIC (threatened) status. Under SARA a bird designated as Threatened is offered more federal protection.

"Hi folks,

A few people, including me, have been confused about the "official" federal status of the western (¼) population of Barn Owls in Canada. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is an arms-length advisory body of scientists from across the country that examines the status of plants and animals. They report their recommendations to Environment Canada, who then decide whether to protect species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

In 2010, COSEWIC declared the western population "Threatened". But under SARA this population is listed as only "Special Concern", which means the species is particularly sensitive to human activities but it's not doing so badly that it can be considered threatened or endangered. It turns out that the reason for the discrepancy is that the SARA status is based on an older report from COSEWIC (2001), and the federal government has not made a decision about the "new" 2010 recommendation yet. This decision is scheduled for spring 2018. This is not an isolated case, but things have been speeding up.

The preface of the 2010 status report explains why the BC population went from "Special Concern" in 2001 to "Threatened" in 2010:

"This is an update of a previous status report (COSEWIC 2001). The Barn Owl's distribution and extent of occurrence in Canada have not changed substantially since then. However, new information on population size, habitat trends, threats, and potential for rescue from the U.S. collectively point to a heightened level of conservation concern for this species' populations in British Columbia and Ontario. Recovery actions in Ontario, which included a nest box program, have thus far not proven successful. The British Columbia population is estimated to be smaller than previously reported, and the remaining breeding habitat has been declining markedly."

I suspect that the high mortality of Barn Owls in the lower mainland this winter will probably receive some attention in the next COSEWIC assessment, which should be in 2020. In the meantime, we should find out this spring whether the birds' federal status will switch from "Special Concern" to "Threatened", thereby qualifying for greater protection and recovery action.

John Reynolds
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