Symbols of wisdom, owls hold a special place in our imaginations. Their keen hearing, remarkable vision, and silent flight make owls perfectly adapted night hunters. Owls play an important ecological role and provide free pest control services to humans by keeping rodent populations in check. These long-lived raptors feed high on the food chain and are sensitive to habitat loss and degradation.
Eleven owl species have been recorded on the Sunshine Coast, of which five are regular resident species. The species of greatest conservation concern is the Western Screech-Owl. This adorable tiny owl stands just 20 cm tall. Our coastal subspecies of Western Screech-Owl (Megascops kennicottii kennicottii) is federally threatened and provincially blue-listed. These owls have experienced dramatic population declines since the 1990s, both in the northern part of the range, and on the South Coast where they have almost completely disappeared. A rough estimate in the latest Status Report (2012) suggests that the coastal subspecies declined by 20 to 30% in Canada between 1995 and 2010. Numbers are poorly known, but there are estimated to be just 1500-3000 birds remaining in Canada. On the Sunshine Coast, Western Screech-Owls were relatively common until the mid-1990s when they declined sharply. By 2001, researchers failed to detect any Screech-Owls in 156 survey stations in our region. Population declines are thought to be related to loss of mature trees required for nesting, along with newly established populations of Barred Owls, which predate upon Screech-Owls.
How We are Helping Owls
- Call-playback surveys to identify occupied sites
- Assessing habitat and mapping territories
- Monitoring breeding activity in known territories
- Building, installing, and monitoring owl nest boxes
- Installing interpretive signs about owls
- Working with stakeholders to conserve habitat for owls
Over the past 3 years, we have conducted extensive call-playback surveys searching for Screech-owls. Despite extensive survey effort, we found Screech-Owls in only three locations on the Lower Sunshine Coast. The most significant of these is the Clowhom watershed where we were able to delineate 4 Western Screech-Owl territories and confirm breeding pairs in 3 of these territories. Our most thrilling discovery was in 2014 when we were able to locate an owl in her nest tree and subsequently document successful fledging of this nest. The owl nested in a natural cavity in a large, old Bigleaf Maple tree. Such large diameter, cavity-bearing trees are essential to Screech-Owls along with many other cavity-dependent wildlife species, such as squirrels, flying squirrels, woodpeckers, and bats.
You Can Help!
- Look, Listen, and Learn – Learn to identify owl species by sight and sound, and submit your sightings to help monitor local populations. Watch the video below to become familiar with the distinctive ‘bouncing ball’ territorial call of the Western Screech-Owl. Please contact us if you think you have heard a Screech-Owl
- Keep Wildlife Trees - Retain large dead and dying trees as potential perches and nest trees for owls
- Keep Habitat for Prey - Plant and maintain hedgerows, thickets, brush piles and tall grass as habitat for the small mammals that owls eat
- Avoid Poisons - Never use pesticides or rodenticides to control insects or rodents. Owls prey on these creatures and can become poisoned themselves as dying animals are easier to catch than healthy prey. If you have a problem with mice or rats, use traps or non-toxic control methods.
- Protect Habitat - Maintain quiet, secluded, undisturbed areas near bodies of water such as rivers, creeks, lakes, and wetlands and away from human activity.
- Install Nest Boxes – Man-made owl nest boxes can help increase available nesting habitat for Western Screech-owls where suitable cavity-bearing nest trees are lacking. Please contact us to obtain or build an owl nest box through our Homes for Wildlife Program. Your box could potentially become occupied by screech-owls, or may be used by another small owl species (Northern Saw-whet Owl) or other birds like woodpeckers or squirrels.
- Take Care on Roads – Owls often fly close to the ground and can be hit by cars when hunting for prey on roads or road shoulders. If you find an injured owl, please contact the Gibsons Wildlife Rehab Centre.