If you’re talking about wild creatures, the western burrowing owl is a kind and tolerant neighbour to people. Despite the fact that new homes and roads are being constructed near the tunnels where these owls live, they tolerate the noise and continue to hunt the insects and rodents that they consume. The owls, on the other hand, are increasingly on a collision path with humans.
Developers are always on the lookout for new property to develop on, and in regions like Southern California, this sometimes entails moving into owls’ natural habitat. To yet, the majority of builders have relocated owls by destroying their burrows, forcing the birds to find a new home in the surrounding neighbourhood. Although this is the case, birds in densely populated areas often have nowhere to escape, endangering the species’ long-term survival.
Therefore, wildlife authorities collaborating with developers are increasingly capturing and transplanting owls to remote new places where environmentalists believe they will be able to satisfy their demands. However, there has only been a limited amount of evidence that this strategy is effective. According to new study published on Thursday in the journal Animal Conservation, tricking burrowing owls into thinking there are already other burrowing owls in the area where they are being transplanted may be quite successful in increasing their survival rates.
In a recent assessment, Ronald Swaisgood of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance noticed that although developers were setting aside territory for displaced birds, there had been little follow-up investigation on how the owls were faring in their new homes.
Dr. Swaisgood was eager to act when he learned that the birds were being considered for listing as endangered in California. He and other environmentalists believed that nothing could be done to halt the property expansion, which included the construction of additional solar energy farms on the land. He and his colleagues cooperated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct an experiment with owls that were on property that was about to be demolished in the greater San Diego region, which was a challenging undertaking given the complicated scenario.
In order to determine whether or not the owl transplants were successful, the researchers installed special doors on the burrows of the colonies that enabled the owls to leave but not to return, allowing them to observe the owls’ behaviour. Immediately after they were released, all 44 were captured and relocated to a different place that already included burrows for them. These translocated owls were maintained in acclimation cages for 30 days before being released to ensure that they would be able to deal with their new environment. Half of the people in this group were subjected to some deception.
The researchers were aware from previous research with other species, such as black rhinos, vultures, and kangaroo rats, that animals are more likely to settle if they are led to believe that other members of their species are nearby when they are given the impression that members of their kind are nearby.
At order to do this, the team splashed nontoxic white latex paint on the rocks surrounding burrows in the new area to provide the appearance of bird faeces for half of the birds in the new location. They did this because burrowing owls have a proclivity to defecate near tunnel openings, and this practise gives the appearance that the burrows are occupied. An outside speaker was installed at these locations to play burrowing owl sounds on a regular basis throughout the week before the animals were released from their acclimation cages, as well as during the following week, in order to further enhance this optical illusion.
All of this ecological dishonesty was ultimately profitable. The 22 owls that were translocated to places marked with white paint and owl sounds rapidly established themselves, but the other 22 owls all strayed off, often travelling more than five kilometres in risky conditions before finding a suitable home.
“The concept of transplants has long been a source of consternation for professionals in the area of ecology,” according to Dan Blumstein, a professor at the University of California in Los Angeles who was not involved in the research.
In the future, Dr. Blumstein and Dr. Swaisgood would want to see transplants of other species evaluated in a similar manner to guarantee that scientists’ good intentions do not result in unnecessarily difficult conditions for species that are already on their path to extinction.