Great Horned Owl studies in Saskatchewan

The Great Horned Owl is one of the most numerous owls in prairie Saskatchewan. These owls predominantly nest in trees, but also use man made structures like old buildings. In the open prairie, tall structures like power-poles and fence lines are used for roosting and as perches for hunting.
Great horned Owls are efficient predators; within Saskatchewan, there are over 30 species detected in their diet, ranging from small mammals (mice, voles) to large ducks and jackrabbits. Being such an adaptable and efficient predator, Great Horned Owls have been very successful in prairie Canada and their population has increased in this area since 1970. Unfortunately, the owls’ hunting proficiency and ability to use human-altered landscapes can sometimes conflict with the management of other species on the prairies.

Our research at the University of Regina and Royal Saskatchewan Museum uses two approaches to understand what features within human-altered landscapes have allowed owls to succeed here in prairie Canada. We are currently asking citizen scientists to report their Great Horned Owl observations to us via an online form – this will help us understand where owl density is highest in the prairies.

To date, we’ve received more than 700 owl observations from all over the province.

It seems like the presence of trees around farmyards and in our prairie cities and towns are really good for these birds. We are still looking to fill in some gaps in our data across Saskatchewan, especially in the areas that are frequented by YFBTA members. The survey will continue for another year.

So please submit your owl observations for our research!

We also have a smaller study in southwestern Saskatchewan, where we are attaching satellite transmitters to Great Horned Owls to study their movements. These satellite transmitters are like small cellphones that allow us to track the precise location of the owls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! This part of the study will allow us to understand where exactly the owls are hunting at night and what features are associated with their hunting success.

Data from last year has showed us that these owls move around a lot – sometimes moving up to 9km away from their nest to hunt. Our research will provide us with a unique understanding of what features of the prairie landscape have allowed Great Horned Owls to thrive and be so successful, when most other birds have experienced significant population declines.

Tory Hartley-Cox – University of Regina

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