Spotted owl chicks being raised in a Langley sanctuary are now internet stars, thanks to a webcam set up above their nest.
The Norther Spotted Owl Breeding Program has been raising owls on the former Mountain View Conservation Centre site for several years.
This year, along with the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, they have set up a live feed, which can be viewed at fwcp.ca.
The breeding pair in the nest are Shania and Scud.
“The camera is situated right over the nest – a hollowed out stump – giving us some great images,” said owl biologist Karen McKeogh. “And this is the first time we have broadcast images of a nest, so we are excited to share what we see with others.”
“The peak times for seeing activity on the nest is between 8:00 and 11:00 in the morning, and 6:00 and 10:00 in the evening,” said McKeogh. “This is because we provide food to the adults during this time, although it hard to predict when they will actually deliver the food to the chick.”
The breeding program began in 2007, and its goal is to restore the wild population of the northern spotted owl to more than 200 in Canada.
At present, there are thought to be fewer than 20 in the wild in this country.
This year, the breeding program is hosting 19 owls, including four breeding pairs and two chicks. Although it’s late in the season for it, biologists are hoping that the cold, long winter may mean there are a few eggs yet to be laid, McKeogh said.
This is the only location in the world where the northern spotted owl is being raised and bred to be reintroduced to the wild.
If all goes well, within the next 10 to 15 years the program will be able to start releasing 20 juvenile owls every year back into the wild. They will be going back to a 300,000 hectare area of protected old growth forest, the only environment in which the owls can survive.
Expanding to that scope will mean building up the breeding program.
“We’ll need more aviaries on site, we’ll need a new hand raising facility,” said McKeogh.
The aviaries are sizable. Each owl has their own large aviary, 100 feet by 40 feet, and 20 feet high. That gives them enough space to fly and hunt.
About 80 per cent of the owls food – rats and mice – is delivered dead, but the other 20 per cent is released live into the aviaries for them to hunt.
Right now, they’re eating lab mice, but that will change as the program gets closer to releasing the owls into the wild, McKeogh said.
Their diet will switch to the northern flying squirrel, their natural prey. That will mean a flying squirrel breeding program to produce owl-food.
The squirrels are essential to teach the owls how to hunt. Mice run on the ground, but flying squirrels will dart straight up a tree, which requires different hunting techniques.
The hope is that the first owl releases into the wild will happen as early as next year.