Spatial and temporal patterns in population trends and burrow usage of burrowing owls in North America

Journal of Raptor Research
University of Idaho



Many researchers have suggested that abundance of Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) has declined in many portions of their breeding range, but a thorough review of their population trends over time is lacking. Published population trends from the North American Breeding Bird Survey program suggested that Burrowing Owl populations in the US have declined over the past 60 yr, but the declines were not considered significant until 2014. However, accurate trend estimates and the statistical significance of those estimates were hampered by low relative abundance of owls. Moreover, many authors have suggested that eradication of burrowing animals is a major cause of Burrowing Owl declines, because burrows dug by burrowing animals are a critical resource for Western Burrowing Owls (A. cunicularia hypugaea). Despite this, we currently lack a range-wide summary of the burrowing animals on which Western Burrowing Owls depend. To help fill these two information gaps, my objectives were to: (1) use Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data to examine geographic patterns in population trends of Burrowing Owls throughout their breeding range in the USA, and (2) use past studies to provide the first summary of the spatial extent to which Western Burrowing Owls rely on the suite of burrowing animals throughout their breeding range. Significantly more BBS routes in the US show declining counts of owls than show increasing or stable counts, and the declines were most apparent prior to 1995. Counts of Burrowing Owls declined most precipitously on the northern edge and southern edge of the owl's US breeding range. Western Burrowing Owls primarily use black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) burrows in the eastern portion of their breeding range, whereas the diversity of burrowing species on which the owls depend is much greater in the western and central portions of their breeding range. Burrowing owl declines have been most apparent in portions of their range where they rely primarily on Richardson's ground squirrels (Urocitellus richardsonii), California ground squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi), black-tailed prairie dogs, and American badgers (Taxidea taxus).

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Spatial and temporal patterns in population trends and burrow usage of burrowing owls in North America
Series title Journal of Raptor Research
DOI 10.3356/JRR-16-109.1
Volume 52
Issue 2
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher The Raptor Research Foundation
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description 14 p.
First page 129
Last page 142
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