Where do Barn owls hunt when farmland disappears?

Even though their habitat is becoming increasing urbanized, Barn owls still persist (albeit in lower numbers) in the Fraser Valley. Sofi started studying the hunting and feeding habits, in the western end of the valley, of these owls seven years ago and her results have just been published in the Journal of Landscape and Urban Planning. Congratulations Sofi!

Her results show that as the grassland habitat dissapears, their next preferred hunting grounds are the roadside grass verges and highway medians. They truly are daring hunting along side Lower Mainland traffic! Read her full article here to learn all about how these adaptive birds hunt and feed despite the changing landscape:

Habitat use by barn owls across a rural to urban gradient and an assessment of stressors_Hindmarch et al. 2017

The Toad People are Coming – to Chilliwack!

Actually they were already here as this film features many awesome Chilliwack citizens, FVC staff and volunteers, and the story of our Toad Tunnel project in Ryder Lake. This visually stunning documentary outlines the efforts of concerned citizens and community groups around the province working to save species at risk.

The Wilderness Committee is co-hosting the event with the FVC. Part of the proceeds will be invested back into our toad tunnel project work.  Advance tickets are advisable and available online, cost it pay what you can. Check out the trailer here for a sneak peek and then come join us for the Chilliwack screening of the Toad People.

Did you know…amphibian breeding season has begun!

Now that spring is finally conquering the winter weather, the amphibians in the Fraser Valley are rousing from their winter habitat and making their way to their breeding sites. You might have heard male chorus frogs calling at night recently? Even though they are one of our smallest frogs, they have big voices especially when they congregate at breeding time (hence the name). They are the most noticeable frog calling at this time of year and a sure sign spring is on its way!

This means the frogs and toads are on the move – watch for them crossing the roads on rainy nights!

Red legged frog on the right and tiny Chorus frog on the left

Have you ever wondered why the frog crossed the road?

As far as amphibians (frogs, toads and salamanders) are concerned, this is the most important event of the year, and they are all making their way from where they spent their winters, to a pond, marsh, wetland, ditch or even abandoned swimming pools to breed and lay eggs. In our region, this often means that amphibians will have to cross at least one or two roads on their quest to find a mate. Unfortunately, road mortality is a significant threat to our native amphibians and this is particularly concerning given that quite a few of our local amphibians are of conservation concern, largely due to their shrinking habitat.

Since spring is late this year, warmer wetter nights will most likely mean a spike in their migration over the next couple of weeks. Please slow down and be on the lookout for amphibians while driving on wet nights.

If you are out during the day, keep an eye out for freshly laid egg masses in bodies of water. We have just completed a handy Aquatic Amphibian Egg Masses in the Fraser Valley ID sheet that can help you figure out who laid the eggs. There is also the corresponding Frogs and Toad of the Fraser Valley ID sheet if you want more details on the adults.

Did you know… Rat poison kills more than rats

Rodenticides (rat poison) are not only killing the intended targets such as rats and house mice. Every year in BC there are documented cases of owls, hawks and other wildlife that have died as a result of eating rodents that have eaten rat poison. Rodenticides are designed to be slow-reacting so that rats and mice do not associate getting sick and dying from eating the poison. Due to these “slow reacting compounds,” and it can take up to 5-7 days before a rodent gets sick and eventually dies. During this lag-time, there is a risk that the rodent will get eaten by a hungry predator, especially if the rodent is becoming slow and lethargic due to poisoning.

There are different types of rodenticides, but the main ones are what we call anticoagulant rodenticides. The active ingredients brodifacoum, difethialone and bromadiolone are very toxic and persistent — one feeding is sufficient to not only kill rodents but also secondary poison predators.

Rodent Control
If possible, avoid the use of rodenticides. Consider preventive measures such as removal of food sources and blocking access to the inside of structures. Rodenticides should only be used as a last resort and application should carefully follow the instructions on the product label.

Preventive Measures
• Removal of open food sources for pests
• Safe storage of food products and or waste management
• Block possible access to the inside of structures
• Keep pet food indoors
• Keep grass short within 1m surrounding barn
• Removal of debris

For more information about this topic and alternatives to rat poison, check out Raptors are the Solution.

Did you know… Great-horned owls are one of the earliest breeding birds in BC

Great-horned owl, approximately 40 days old, still covered in thick baby down. At 2 months, it will start to shed the down as adult feathers grow in. While the horns are still small, the talons are fully developed as these provide defense against predators. Great-horned owl talons take a force of 28 pounds to open them.   Photo by Barb Coote

You might have heard a pair calling back and forth in early January which is when they typically begin courtship. Their deep “hoot hoot” call is the classic owl call that everyone recognizes.

Great-horned owls like many other owls don’t make their own nests but rather adopt old stick nests made by other raptors, squirrels, or they nest in big tree cavities or snags.

The female typically starts laying her eggs in mid-February, often when there is still snow on the ground and sub-zero temperatures.  The female lays on average between 1-4 eggs and incubates the eggs for 32-35 days before they hatch. The number of eggs laid each year has been shown to correlate with the availability of their main prey, which is small mammals.

Raising Great-horned owlets is no small feat, and it takes about 2.5-3 months after hatching before the young ones are able to fly. Like any predator, the young ones need to learn how to hunt and capture their own prey, so even though they are able to fly at 3 months, they are still dependent on their parents for food while they slowly acquire hunting skills. As the young ones become more independent and capable of capturing their own prey they will leave the parents’ territory and find their home, this usually happens in early- to mid-fall.

The oldest free living Great-horned owl documented was 27 years and 7 months!

Check out this webcam of a Great-horned owl nesting site from the Owl Research Institute in Carlo, Montana. The owls are around but they haven’t started nesting yet. They typically start mid-February and you can hear the owls calling at night.