Some populations of western burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia hypugaea) have declined in recent decades. To design and implement effective recovery efforts, we need a better understanding of how distribution and demographic traits are influenced by habitat quality. To this end, we measured spatial patterns of burrowing owl breeding habitat selection within black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colonies in northeastern Wyoming, USA. We compared burrow-, site-, colony-, and landscape-scale habitat parameters between burrowing owl nest burrows (n = 105) and unoccupied burrows (n = 85). We sampled 4 types of prairie dog colonies: 1) owl-occupied, active with prairie dogs (n = 16); 2) owl-occupied, inactive (n = 13); 3) owl-unoccupied, active (n = 14); and 4) owl-unoccupied, inactive (n = 14). We used an information-theoretic approach to examine a set of candidate models of burrowing owl nest-site selection. The model with the most support included variables at all 4 spatial scales, and results were consistent among the 4 types of prairie dog colonies. Nest burrows had longer tunnels, more available burrows within 30 m, and less shrub cover within 30 m, more prairie dog activity within 100 m, and were closer to water than unoccupied burrows. The model correctly classified 76% of cases, all model coefficients were stable, and the model had high predictive ability. Based on our results, we recommend actions to ensure persistence of the remaining prairie dog colonies as an important management strategy for burrowing owl conservation in the Great Plains of North America.
Additional publication details
Multiscale habitat selection by burrowing owls in black-tailed prairie dog colonies