Influence of Petroleum Development on Burrowing Owl Ecology

Corey Scobie
Alan Marsh
Ryan Fisher
Erin Bayne
Troy Wellicome
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Petroleum development has occurred at a rapid pace on the grasslands of Alberta and
Saskatchewan. To avoid potential impacts of development on burrowing owls, federal and provincial governments developed set-back guidelines and timing restrictions near nest sites. The main premise of these guidelines is that petroleum development negatively affects individual burrowing owls and/or their nest sites and that buffering nests in both space and time reduces these effects. The goal of this study was to determine if there are effects on burrowing owl movements, prey capture, survival, reproductive success, and nest burrow re-occupancy from petroleum infrastructure or activities.

Each summer across Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan between 2003 and 2012 burrowing owl nests were found and monitored.

The average maximum distance travelled from the nest during the day was 250 m. During the night, owls use an average area of 623 ha, which is equivalent to a home range with a circular radius of 1.4 km. Owls were attracted to most types of roads and gas wells. Owls are furthest from the nest and moving the most two hours after sunset and two hours before sunrise. On average, owls were 0.54 km from their nests at other times of night.

At the 0.5 km scale, there was no strong evidence that burrowing owl reproductive output changed in response to the human footprint measures examined.