Identifying causes of declines and evaluating effects of management practices on persistence of local populations of burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) requires accurate estimates of abundance and population trends. Moreover, regulatory agencies in the United States and Canada typically require surveys to detect nest burrows prior to approving developments or other activities in areas that are potentially suitable for nesting burrowing owls. In general, guidelines on timing of surveys have been lacking and surveys have been conducted at different times of day and in different stages of the nesting cycle. We used logistic regression to evaluate 7 factors that could potentially affect probability of a surveyor detecting a burrowing owl nest. We conducted 1,444 detection trials at 323 burrowing owl nests within 3 study areas in Washington and Wyoming, USA, between February and August 2000-2002. Detection probability was highest during the nestling period and increased with ambient temperature. The other 5 factors that we examined (i.e., study area, time of day, timing within the breeding season, wind speed, % cloud cover) interacted with another factor to influence detection probability. Use of call-broadcast surveys increased detection probability, even during daylight hours when we detected >95% of owls visually. Optimal timing of surveys will vary due to differences in breeding phenology and differences in nesting behavior across populations. Nevertheless, we recommend ???3 surveys per year: one that coincides with the laying and incubation period, another that coincides with the early nestling period, and a third that coincides with the late nestling period. In northern latitudes, surveys can be conducted throughout the day.
Additional publication details
Factors affecting detection of burrowing owl nests during standardized surveys