‘Hoo’ Is this Project About?
The Western Screech-owl is one of the smaller owls you might find living in our BC forests. Like other forest owls, the Western Screech-owl is an expert in camouflage! Its brown-grey streaked body and small ear tufts help it blend perfectly into the background of an old decaying tree.
While tricky to spot, you are more likely to hear this little owl during its breeding season in February and March, than to see it. But don’t be fooled! Contrary to their name, the Screech-owl doesn’t really make much of a screech. On your next dusk-lit nature walk, listen for the male Screech-owl’s territorial ‘bouncy ball’ call – named aptly so because of its series of 5–9 short whistled hoots, which speeds up in a bouncing ball fashion toward the end!
Why Are We Building Owl Nest Boxes?
Once a common owl in southwestern BC, the coastal sub-species of the Western Screech-owl (Megascops kennicottii kennicottii) has declined by almost 90% in the past two decades. Biologists believe this rapid decline is largely due to loss of habitat – including the loss of nesting sites due to the removal of large, decaying trees (also called wildlife trees).
The Screech-owl depends on mature, mixed lowland coastal forests. To picture this type of habitat, think of those big, old undisturbed cottonwood islands in the Fraser River. These older forests contain snags and trees with large cavities, which are perfect for nesting owls. This more open and diverse understory gives their prey a place to live too!
There is also a concern that the expanding population of Barred owls in our valley may also be displacing the Western Screech-owl.
The goal of this project is to help stabilize and monitor the population of Western Screech-owls, particularly in the Lower Mainland. We are installing nest boxes in protected areas (like parks and wildlife management areas) that consist of the right vegetation, but where forests might be too young to have developed the cavity-rich decaying old-growth trees this owl needs for nesting.
Currently, we work with other biologists to monitor the owls, optimize box site selection, and share population information in an online database.
Part of this project involves training volunteers to continue monitoring our newly installed owl boxes. These citizen scientists will use special ‘peeper’ cameras to look inside the nest boxes. They will collect important information about who is living there, what they’re up to, and if they have babies!
Information collected by our citizen scientists will be entered into the Western Screech-owl Nest Box Project Database (Bird Studies Canada). This data will become essential for developing meaningful conservation strategies to address the troubling population decline of our Western Screech-owl.
Our program is based on a similar successful program, initiated on Vancouver Island, by the Habitat Acquisition Trust and Madrone Environmental.
Check out this cool video of a female Screech Owl using one of the Vancouver Island nest boxes, taken by Laurie Kremsater from Madrone Environmental!
During the winter season of 2016/17, we installed 100 nest boxes in municipal and regional parks throughout the Fraser Valley and on the North Shore.
In winter 2017/18, we are installing an additional 100 nest boxes!
We plan to install even more in the years to come.
100% of this project is made possible by the effort of our awesome volunteers! A big thank you goes out to all of the volunteers who are willing to endure long days with Sofi, often traversing steep mountainous terrain while carrying boxes and equipment!
This project is made possible by:
Our Dedicated volunteers
Our Generous Donors