Management Plan for the Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) in Canada - 2016 [Proposed]

Short-eared Owl

Table of Contents

List of Figures

List of Tables

List of Appendices

Environment Canada. 2016. Management Plan for the Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) in Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Management Plan Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. v + 35 pp.

For copies of the management plan, or for additional information on species at risk, including the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) Status Reports, residence descriptions, action plans, and other related recovery documents, please visit the Species at Risk (SAR) Public Registry.

Cover illustration: © Steve Garvie (Wikipedia Commons)

Également disponible en français sous le titre «Plan de gestion du Hibou des marais (Asio flammeus) au Canada [Proposition] »

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.

The federal, provincial, and territorial government signatories under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996) agreed to establish complementary legislation and programs that provide for effective protection of species at risk throughout Canada. Under the Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c. 29) (SARA), the federal competent ministers are responsible for the preparation of management plans for listed species of special concern and are required to report on progress within five years after the publication of the final document on the SAR Public Registry.

The Minister of the Environment and Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency is the competent minister under SARA for the Short-eared Owl and has prepared this management plan as per section 65 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the following as per section 66(1) of SARA.

Success in the conservation of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this plan and will not be achieved by Environment Canada and/or the Parks Canada Agency, or any other jurisdiction alone. All Canadians are invited to join in supporting and implementing this plan for the benefit of the Short-eared Owl and Canadian society as a whole.

Implementation of this management plan is subject to appropriations, priorities and budgetary constraints of the participating jurisdictions and organizations.

The management plan for the Short-eared Owl was prepared by Vincent Carignan and François Shaffer (Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service [EC-CWS] – Quebec Region), in collaboration with Pierre-André Bernier (consulting biologist) and:

EC-CWS – Pacific and Yukon Region – Sofi Hindmarch, Andrea Norris and Pam Sinclair.

EC-CWS – Prairie and Northern Region – Donna Bigelow, Ryan Fisher, Samuel Haché, Lisa Pirie and Troy Wellicome.

EC-CWS – Ontario Region – Mike Cadman.

EC-CWS – Atlantic Region – Jen Rock and Peter Thomas.

Parks Canada Agency (PCA) – Diane L. Amirault-Langlais, Eric Tremblay, Joanne Tuckwell and Leah de Forest

Government of the Northwest Territories – Department of Environment and Natural Resources: Joanna Wilson.

Government of British Columbia – Michael J. Chutter, Retzer Miller, Tori Stevens and Dave Trotter.

Government of Alberta – Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development – Mike Russell and Emily Herdman

Government of Manitoba – Department of Conservation and Water Stewardship – James Duncan and Ken De Smet.

Government of Quebec – Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs – Isabelle Gauthier, Charles Maisonneuve and Antoine St-Louis.

Government of New Brunswick – Department of Natural Resources – Maureen Toner.

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - Department of Environment and Conservation – Jessica Humber.

Additional contributors include: Geneviève Langlois (EC-CWS – Quebec Region); Natalka Melnycky and Kaytlin Cooper (Gwich'in Renewable Resources Board), Deborah Simmons and Catarina Owen (Sahtú Renewable Resources Board); Karla Letto (Nunavut Wildlife Management Board).

Finally, we thank all other parties, including landowners, citizens and stakeholders who provided comments on this document or information used to produce the management plan, as well as Regroupement QuébecOiseaux, EC-CWS and Bird Studies Canada for providing us with the data from the second Québec Breeding Bird Atlas, and the thousands of volunteers who collected data for those projects.

The Short-eared Owl is a bird found in natural and anthropogenic open habitats throughout Canada. The status of the species was designated Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in 1994 and 2008 and has been listed as such in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) since 2012.

Around 300,000 individuals and 63% of the Short-eared Owl's North American breeding range are in Canada. The species breeds in all provinces and territories, but is most common in the Prairies (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) and along the Arctic coast. Short-eared Owl populations have shown a mean annual decline between 2.3% and 5.2% from the 1960s/1970s to 2012, but the population size seems to have stabilized between 2002 to 2012.

The main threats to the Short-eared Owl are habitat loss and degradation (agriculture, urban and commercial development, energy production and mining), activities and events that affect individuals, nests and eggs (grazing, mowing and harvesting, pesticide use, collisions), and climate change.

The management objectives for the Short-eared Owl in Canada are:

The broad strategies that are required to achieve the management objectives include:

Approximately 63% of the North American breeding range of the Short-eared Owl is in Canada (COSEWIC, 2008). The species was listed as Special Concern in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c. 29) (SARA) in 2012. The Short-eared Owl is not protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 (S.C. 1994, c. 22). Although it is protected under most provincial and territorial wildlife legislation, it is listed in only a few pieces of legislation pertaining to species at risk (Table 1).

NatureServe (2014) considers the global population of the Short-eared Owl to be Secure (G5 ; assessment as of January 2008). The Canadian population is considered Apparently Secure (N4) during the breeding season and Vulnerable (N3) during the non-breeding (wintering) season (assessments as of February 2012). The breeding and non-breeding populations in the United States are considered Secure (N5; assessment as of January 1997). Table 1 shows the subnational (S) rank for each province and territory. Booms et al. (2014) consider that the national status is inconsistent with state and provincial ranks since 77% of scores fall in the Critically Imperiled (S1; 27%), Imperiled (S2; 22%) or Vulnerable (S3; 25%) categories.

Partners in Flight, a North American landbird conservation program, lists the Short-eared Owl as a “Common bird in steep decline” (Partners in Flight Science Committee, 2012).

Table 1. Shorteared Owl Rank and Designation in Endangered Wildlife Legislation by Province and Territory.
Province/Territory NatureServe
Subnational Rank Table Footnoteb
British Columbia S3B, S2N Not listed;
Identified Wildlife and Blue List Table Footnotec
Alberta S3 May Be at Risk Table Footnoted
Saskatchewan S3B, S2N Not listed
Manitoba S2S3B Threatened Table Footnotee
Ontario S2N, S4B Special Concern Table Footnotef
Quebec S3S4 Likely to be Designated
Threatened or Vulnerable Table Footnoteg
New Brunswick S3B Special Concern Table Footnoteh
Nova Scotia S1S2 Not listed Table Footnotei
Prince Edward Island S1S2B Not listed
Newfoundland and Labrador S3B (NF), S3S4B (L) Vulnerable Table Footnotej
Yukon S3B Not listed
Northwest Territories S3S4B Not listed Table Footnotek
Nunavut SNRB Not listed

The Short-eared Owl is also found in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and in Schedule 1 of the Wild Animal and Plant Trade Regulations pursuant to section 21 of the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (S.C. 1992, c. 52), which regulate trade in the species.

Wiggins et al. (2006) describe the Short-eared Owl as a medium-sized owl approximately 34 to 42 cm in length. Individuals have a large, round head, with small tufts of feathers that look like ears, although these are rarely seen. The eyes of the adults are yellow and framed by black feathers on a pale facial disk. Wings are fairly long and the tail is short. Adults have a brown back and creamy-buff chest with brown streaks that provide camouflage. Sexes are similar in appearance but females are on average slightly larger (378 g vs. 315 g) and tend to be darker ventrally and dorsally (Wiggins et al., 2006). Juveniles are similar to adults, but the upperparts and the head are more dusky and they lack the facial pattern of adults (Wiggins et al., 2006). The Short-eared Owl is conspicuous only when it flies, often at dawn and dusk. It can easily be identified by its irregular wingbeats, which resemble those of a butterfly, as well as by black patches near the ‘wrist’ on the underside of each wing.

The Short-eared Owl has a global distribution, occurring on all continents except Australia and Antarctica (Holt et al., 1999; Wiggins, 2004). In the northern hemisphere, the species has one of the largest ranges among owls, breeding in open habitats across the North Temperate Zone and on a large number of oceanic islands, including the Greater Antilles and Hawaii (Wiggins et al., 2006). Although the distribution in North America is broad (Figure 1), the species occurs irregularly within it (COSEWIC, 2008). The only subspecies occurring in North America is A. f. flammeus.

Partners In Flight estimates the Short-eared Owl global population at 3,000,000, the North American population at 600,000 and the Canadian breeding population at about 300,000 individuals (Partners in Flight Science Committee, 2013). In Canada, the species occurs in all provinces and territories, but is most common in the Prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) and along the Arctic coast (Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon). Recent observations north of the known breeding range in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut may be the result of increased survey efforts or a possible range expansion (Therrien, 2010; Reid et al., 2011, Smith et al., 2013).

During winter, the species is a regular resident in open habitats along the southern coast of British Columbia and in southern Ontario, and an occasional resident in coastal areas of Atlantic Canada (Figure 1; Schmelzer, 2005). It also occurs sporadically in the Prairie provinces and Quebec, where the number of wintering individuals fluctuates substantially from year to year (COSEWIC, 2008; National Audubon Society, 2014). Owls nesting in the Prairie Provinces move southward after breeding, wintering primarily in the United States Great Plains (Clark, 1975). During winter, individuals congregate (usually fewer than 10) and roost in areas with high food availability (Cadman and Page, 1994).

The migratory paths and stopover sites along the way, especially for populations migrating from the Arctic coast, are largely unknown (one individual migrated from Alaska to Mexico and one from extreme northern Quebec to New York City; see results and references in Keyes, 2011).

Figure 1. Distribution of the Short-eared Owl in North America (modified from Wiggins et al., 2006, on the basis of observations from Therrien, 2010, and Smith et al., 2013).
Distribution of the Short-eared Owl
Long description for Figure 1

Figure 1 shows the distribution of the Short-eared Owl in North America. The species is found to breed almost everywhere in Canada, with the exception of the very far North, and in a little portion of the North of the center of the United States, near Lake Michigan. It is found year-round in the North of the United States and it is found wintering in the south of the United States and in Mexico.

The species' nomadic behaviour Content Footnote2 and tendency toward irruptions, Content Footnote3 the gaps in knowledge regarding the breeding population in remote areas and the lack of consistent standardized census results complicate population trends analysis (Cadman and Page, 1994; Clayton, 2000; Booms et al., 2014). However, data from the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) for the United States suggest that the abundance of Short-eared Owls declined by a mean of about 2.3% per year between 1960 and 2012, with a stabilization between 2002 and 2012 (National Audubon Society, 2014). Since a high proportion of these birds are likely from the Canadian breeding population, this figure is considered a reasonable estimate of the Canadian population trend (COSEWIC, 2008). The Canadian Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), a program that monitors breeding birds mostly across southern Canada, also shows a steep mean decline of 5.17% per year between 1970 and 2012 (95% C.I.= -1.05% to -9.24%) and a stabilization between 2002 and 2012 (+0.40% per year; 95% C.I.= -14.9% to +22.7%) (Environment Canada, 2014). The data for Alberta (-4.54% and +0.40%) and Saskatchewan (-5.4% and +0.68%) follow the same patterns. The number of routes where Short-eared Owl were detected was insufficient to calculate a trend in other provinces and territories.

Data from the various breeding bird atlas projects across Canada show contrasting trends (Table 2). Some show sharp declines in the number of occupied atlas squares (e.g. in Quebec), while others show stable occupancy (e.g. in the Maritimes) or even substantial increases (e.g. in Ontario). The time periods considered vary among the regions, and survey efforts and coverage often differed between first and second atlas projects within a region, making comparison difficult. For example, M.A. Grabauer (in Cadman et al., 2007) suggests that the increase in the number of occupied atlas squares in the second atlas project could be the result of extensive low-level aerial surveys in the Hudson Bay lowlands, while targeted searches to locate the species in southern Ontario by the Migration Research Foundation (2004) showed that agricultural areas away from large watercourses have been abandoned. Furthermore, the irruptive nature of the species complicates the interpretation of atlas data, especially since the data are available over a maximum of two periods of 5 or 6 years, separated by 15 to 20 years.

Data for the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Newfoundland and Labrador are scant and were gathered through smaller-scale, ad hoc surveys (see section 6.2).

Table 2. Breeding Bird Atlas Data for the Shorteared Owl in Canada.
Provinces Atlas Periods Number of Occupied Atlas Squares References
British Columbia 2008-2012 50 Davidson et al. (2014)
Alberta 1985-1990 NA Semenchuk (1992)
Alberta 2000-2005 NA Federation of Alberta Naturalists (2007)
Saskatchewan 1966-2014 Table Footnotel 192 Smith (1996); Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas Table Footnotem
Manitoba 2010-2014 Table Footnotel 82 Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas (2014)
Ontario 1981-1985 63 Cadman et al. (1987)
Ontario 2001-2005 158 Cadman et al. (2007)
Quebec 1984-1989 120 Gauthier and Aubry (1995)
Quebec 2010-2014 Table Footnotel 67 Québec Breeding Bird Atlas (2014)
Maritimes 1986-1990 29 Erskine (1992)
Maritimes 2006-2010 32 Maritime Breeding Bird Atlas (2013)

Short-eared Owls occur in a variety of open native habitats, including grasslands, Arctic tundra, taiga, bogs, marshes, coastal wetlands, coastal barrens, estuaries and grasslands dominated by sand-sage (Artemisia filifolia). They are also found in many types of man-made agricultural habitats (e.g. managed grasslands) (Erskine, 1992; Sinclair et al., 2003; Wiggins et al., 2006). There is little specific information regarding habitat preferences at the landscape scale, but a mosaic of grasslands and wetlands provides optimal breeding and foraging habitats (Wiggins, 2004). At a more detailed scale, studies indicate that medium-to-tall grasses (higher than 30 cm, see Clayton, 2000; Wiggins, 2004), some dry upland for nesting (Clark, 1975; Tate, 1992) and hunting perches (e.g. scattered trees; Wiebe, 1987; Keyes, 2011) are characteristics of a number of occupied sites, although these specific features may not be required (Dechant et al., 2001). For wintering sites, thatch density and height resembling that of old fields or native habitats appears to be an important habitat characteristic (Huang et al., 2010). Ultimately, however, the density of prey populations seems to be a better indicator of habitat occupancy (e.g. Poulin et al., 2001), and several studies show that the Meadow Vole (Microtus pennyslvanicus), one of the predominant prey items, Content Footnote4 prefers natural prairie or meadows with greater amounts of vegetative cover and typically avoids cultivated fields and annual cropland (Marinelli and Neal, 1995; Peles and Barrett, 1996; Lin and Batzli, 2001).

In suitable breeding habitats, pairs defend territories of 20 ha to more than 100 ha, although nests from multiple pairs may be clustered in habitats where food resources are abundant (semi-colonial breeder; Pitelka et al., 1955; Clark, 1975; Tate, 1992; Holt and Leasure, 1993; Wiggins, 2004). Herkert et al.(1999) suggest that the total amount of habitat within the landscape is more important than the size of individual patches; small patches which can be used if they are located near large habitat patches. Breeding may begin in late March in areas that are used year-round and may extend to late August (Dechant et al., 2001). Eggs are laid on flattened vegetation or in a scrape made on the ground and lined with grasses (Ehrlich et al., 1988). Flightless owlets leave the nest at 14 to 17 days and generally remain within 200 metres of the nest for the first few weeks (Holt and Leasure, 1993). A pair can renest if the first attempt fails (Dechant et al., 2001). Birds are capable of breeding within their second year, and wild individuals have been known to reach 12 years of age (Cramp, 1985).

Owing to fluctuating food resources, the Short-eared Owl generally exhibits low site fidelity (Anderson, 1980; Booms et al., 2014), and distances of over 1000 km between consecutive sites used in breeding seasons have been reported (Clark, 1975). Nomadism may also be more pronounced in northern populations than in southern ones, while southern populations may stay in the same area year-round (Wiggins et al., 2006). Migration and wintering sites appear to be more stable.

Limiting Factors

Limiting factors influence a species' survival and reproduction, and play a major role in the ability to reach certain population levels or to recover following a decline. For the Short-eared Owl, the availability of food resources is a limiting factor.The Meadow Vole, one of its main prey species, has cyclic population fluctuations about every 2 to 5 years (Reich, 1981). These fluctuations affect the breeding successof the Short-eared Owlwhose clutches vary between 1 and 11 eggs, with a mean of 5.6; Murray, 1976). However, the Short-eared Owl can breed earlier and increase its clutch size in times of prey abundance (Clark, 1975; Holt and Leasure, 1993; Cadman and Page, 1994).

The impact of this limiting factor is likely greater in more disturbed landscapes.

There are various direct and indirect threats to the Short-eared Owl and its habitats. In this management plan, threats were assessed using the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Threats Calculator (Salafsky et al., 2008), which considers only the direct, not the indirect, effects on population numbers. Consequently, with regard to threats leading to habitat modification, such as industrial activities, only direct threats such as loss of food resources leading to a decrease in the survival rate or shifts to suboptimal habitats are taken into consideration. Indirect threats related to habitat alteration which can lead to altered predatory/prey dynamics and to higher rates of predation on Short-eared Owls are considered only in the “Problematic Native Species” category. Also, the threats calculator takes into account only current threats within the Short-eared Owl range and threats projected to occur in the next 10 years (or 3 generations for the Short-eared Owl). Historical threats are presented in section 4.2 Description of Threats.

In Table 3, assessments are provided for northern populations (breeding and migrating) and southern populations (wintering and resident) because the impacts differ. The IUCN Threats Calculator assesses direct threats only, but the sections of the management plan following the table incorporate the indirect threats to provide a more complete understanding of the effects of each type of threat on the Short-eared Owl.

Table 3. Threats Assessed for the Shorteared Owl Using the IUCN Threats Calculator.
Threats Description Impact Table Footnoten
Impact Table Footnoten
Scope Table Footnoteo
(3 generations)
Scope Table Footnoteo
(3 generations)
Severity Table Footnotep
(3 generations)
Severity Table Footnotep
(3 generations)
Immediacy Table Footnoteq
Immediacy Table Footnoteq
1 Residential & commercial development Low Negligible Small Negligible Slight Negligible High High
1.1 Housing & urban areas Low Negligible Small Negligible Slight Negligible High High
1.2 Commercial & industrial areas Low Negligible Small Negligible Slight Negligible High High
1.3 Tourism & recreation areas Low Negligible Small Negligible Slight Negligible High High
2 Agriculture & aquaculture Low Negligible Restricted Negligible Slight Negligible High Negligible
2.1 Annual & perennial nontimber crops Low Negligible Restricted Negligible Slight Negligible High Negligible
2.3 Livestock farming & ranching Low Negligible Restricted Negligible Slight Negligible High Negligible
3 Energy production & mining Low Low Restricted Restricted Slight Slight High High
3.1 Oil & gas drilling Low Low Restricted Restricted Slight Slight High High
3.2 Mining & quarrying Low Low Restricted Restricted Slight Slight High High
3.3 Renewable energy Low Low Small Small Slight Slight High High
4 Transportation & service corridors Low Low Small Small Slight Slight High High
4.1 Roads & railroads Low Low Small Small Slight Slight High High
4.2 Utility & service lines Low Low Small Small Slight Slight High High
5 Biological resource use Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Low Low
5.1 Hunting & collecting terrestrial animals Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Low Low
6 Human intrusions & disturbance Negligible Negligible Negligible Negligible Negligible Negligible High High
6.1 Recreational activities Negligible Negligible Negligible Negligible Negligible Negligible High High
7 Natural system modifications Negligible Negligible Negligible Small Slight Negligible High High
7.1 Fire & fire suppression Negligible Negligible Negligible Negligible Slight Negligible High High
7.2 Dams & water management/use Negligible Negligible Negligible Small Negligible Negligible High High
7.3 Other ecosystem modifications Negligible Low Negligible Small Slight Slight High High
8 Invasive & other problematic species & genes Negligible Negligible Restricted Negligible Negligible Negligible High Low
8.1 Invasive alien (nonnative) species Negligible Negligible Restricted Negligible Negligible Negligible High Low
8.2 Problematic native species Negligible Negligible Restricted Negligible Negligible Negligible High Low
11 Climate change & severe weather Negligible Negligible Restricted Small Negligible Negligible High High
11.1 Habitat shifting & alteration Negligible Negligible Restricted Small Negligible Negligible High High
11.4 Storms & flooding Negligible Negligible Small Negligible Negligible Negligible High Moderate

Threats to the Short-eared Owl can affect habitat through loss or degradation but can also affect individuals, nests and eggs. Human activities that remove or fragment large expanses of habitat required during the various life cycle stages are considered the primary factor driving declines in Short-eared Owl populations (Dechant et al., 2001; Wiggins, 2004; Wiggins et al., 2006). The direct effects of habitat loss and degradation no doubt explain part of the decline, but species experts believe that the key factors are probably linked to the indirect effects leading to reduced reproductive success due to lower (or unpredictable) prey availability and increased predation (Wiggins, 2004; Booms et al., 2014). Aside from the direct threats to Short-eared Owl habitat, there are a number of threats that affect individuals, nests or eggs.

Residential and commercial development

Habitat loss due to urban expansion, recreational activities and resort development constitute a major localized threat, particularly in productive habitats occupied year-round, such as coastal marshes and adjacent grasslands (Wiggins, 2004; Wiggins et al., 2006). This threat affects the species in some areas where it is found in high densities (e.g. the Fraser River delta of British Columbia; Campbell et al., 1990). Despite this, high densities of breeding and overwintering Short-eared Owls in urbanized areas have been reported (e.g. at Sea Island near the Vancouver airport; Butler and Campbell, 1987).

Agriculture and aquaculture

The conversion of native habitats (e.g. grassland, wetland) to agriculture, particularly for intensive agriculture, is a widespread threat throughout southern Canada. Samson and Knopf (1994) reported dramatic losses of native grasslands in Alberta (61% of mixed grass prairie), Saskatchewan (81% of mixed grass prairie and 86% of shortgrass prairie), and Manitoba (99% of tallgrass prairie and more than 75% of mixed grass prairie), as well as further south (USA) along the western and central Great Plains. This threat is ongoing in most areas of the species' range (i.e. breeding, wintering and year-round areas; Gauthier et al., 2003; Canadian Prairie Partners in Flight, 2004; Samson et al., 2004; Watmough and Schmoll, 2007; Pool et al., 2014). However, the conversion of native grasslands to more intensive crops seems to have slowed in the Prairie provinces (Statistics Canada, 2011). This may be because less of the remaining native habitats are on soils that are suitable for crop production. If this is the case, conversion rates could accelerate if alternative crops (e.g. biofuel crops) that grow well on marginal lands are developed (Liu et al., 2011). As for wetlands, the rate of loss along the St. Lawrence River has also slowed in recent years (Ducks Unlimited Canada, 2010) after decades of intensive draining (e.g. 80% of wetlands have been lost since European settlement; James, 1999; Painchaud and Villeneuve, 2003). In the Canadian Prairies, the rate of wetland loss has been slower but continuous since the early 1900s (see references in Canadian Partners in Flight, 2004).

Livestock farming and ranching is very common over much of the Canadian Prairies and the United States Great Plains (Samson and Knopf, 1994). Grazing can affect the structure of Short-eared Owl habitat by reducing grass height and density. Although habitats consisting of short or sparse grasses can be used effectively for foraging (Vukovich and Ritchison, 2008), it has been shown that overgrazing by domestic ungulates may limit the densities of herbivorous small mammals, such as voles, that constitute important prey species in grassland ecosystems, and may thus have an impact on predators at higher trophic levels (Villar et al., 2014).

Although Short-eared Owls nest on agricultural land, their breeding success in such habitats is lower than in native habitats (Campbell et al., 1990; Cadman and Page, 1994; Herkert et al., 1999; Keyes, 2011). In these areas, there can be significant egg and nestling mortality (because of trampling by livestock, mechanical trauma and so on; Arroyo and Bretagnolle, 1999), since many fields are grazed, mowed or harvested before the young leave the nest. Fondell and Ball (2004) found that reproductive success was significantly lower on grazed grasslands than on ungrazed grasslands (10% vs. 60%), in large part because of greater predation on eggs and nestlings. Mowing and harvesting can also lead to an increase in the likelihood of nest depredation, owing to reduced concealment from predators (Keyes, 2011). However, Dechant et al. (2001) suggest an occasional mowing or burning (e.g. every 2-8 years), outside of the breeding period, may be needed in some areas to maintain habitats, for instance, to prevent shrubs from invading tallgrass prairies.

The pesticides used to control pest species (e.g. pigeons, European Starlings and rodents) may pose a threat to the Short-eared Owl. First and foremost, pesticides used to control crop pests may indirectly affect the survival of individuals and reproductive success by decreasing prey populations. The ingestion of prey contaminated with pesticides (e.g. 4-amino-pyridine (Avitrol®), strychnine and fenthion) has also been shown to cause traumatic shock and death in raptors (including Short-eared Owls) Mineau et al.,1999; Campbell, 2006). Mass mortality events for raptors (including five Short-eared Owls) have been linked to the application of an insecticide used to control rodent infestations in Israel (Mendelssohn and Paz, 1977). However, concentrations of contaminants reported for Short-eared Owls (Peakall and Kemp, 1980; Henny et al.,1984) generally do not have a significant effect on eggshell thickness, tissue damage or embryo mortality (Cadman and Page, 1994; Wiggins et al., 2006). This is probably because the species' diet consists primarily of herbivorous species, making it less prone to bioaccumulation Content Footnote5 of pesticides than species feeding on carnivorous prey.

New chemical compounds and substances have been developed and used across the range of the Short-eared Owl, and it is possible that individuals may be affected by bioaccumulation or biomagnification of other contaminants. There are concerns about, among other things, neonicotinoids, Content Footnote6 neurotoxic insecticides known to have the potential to cause behavioural effects in insectivorous birds (Hallmann et al., 2014). Although the Short-eared Owl is not insectivorous, some of its prey species are, and this could impact the species' populations.

Energy production and mining

Exploration to find new energy sources (e.g. oil, gas, coal and hydroelectricity) and minerals (including aggregates), exploitation of these sources (resulting in mine residues, flooding of areas to create reservoirs, and so on) and their transportation (necessitating pipelines, transmission lines, roads and so on) have generated habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation in many areas of the Short-eared Owl's range (Masek et al., 2011). However, the direct impacts of these threats on the Short-eared Owl populations have not yet been demonstrated.

Transportation and service corridors (collisions)

Mortality of Short-eared Owls has occurred as a result of collisions with aircraft, automobiles, antennas, windows, power lines, barbed-wire fences and wind turbines (Cadman and Page, 1994; Fajardo et al., 1994; Bevanger and Overskaug, 1998; Kingsley and Whittam, 2005; Preston and Powers, 2006; Jiménez-Uzcategui and Betancourt, 2008, Longcore et al., 2013). However, whether this is a significant factor in the population decline is unknown (COSEWIC, 2008).

Climate change

The potential effects of climate change on the Short-eared Owl are difficult to predict because the various species respond differently to spatial and temporal variations in their environment (Taper et al, 1995). One of the main effects could be through the availability of prey species. Indeed, climate change scenarios predict a reduction in snow cover in the Canadian Prairies (Sauchyn and Kulshreshtha, 2008), and such a reduction would negatively impact Meadow Vole populations (Heisler et al., 2014). Prey could, however, be more easily accessed in such conditions. Another effect, the increased occurrence of severe weather events (cold snaps, hurricanes, wind storms; Huber and Gulledge, 2011), could have impacts throughout the species' range.

Northern regions are likely to sustain the most significant impacts associated with climate change (Screen and Simmonds, 2010). Potential changes to the Arctic tundra through increased shrub cover (Myers-Smith et al., 2011; Miller and Smith, 2012; Zhang et al., 2013) would reduce the area of suitable habitat for the Short-eared Owl in that ecosystem. However, the warming observed in the Arctic could allow for further expansion elsewhere in northern Canada (Therrien, 2010; Smith et al., 2013).

Other threats

Hunting (in the northern part of the range) and recreational activities (e.g. use of all-terrain vehicles in coastal habitats) are likely negligible or minor threats to the Short-eared Owl. Fire suppression (resulting in succession toward shrub cover too thick for the species), the creation of dams (flooding of large areas), invasive alien species (particularly Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)), and some native species (e.g. nest predators such as skunks and raccoons) could be threats, although their impact is presumably more limited than that of the other threats described in this section.

The management objectives for the Short-eared Owl in Canada are:

These objectives address the species' long-term decline, which was the reason for its designation as Special Concern (COSEWIC 2008). The 10-year time frame for the short-term objectives is considered reasonable, given the challenge of stabilizing or increasing the population trend of such a widespread species. The area of occupancy provided corresponds to the COSEWIC (2008) estimate and maintaining it should focus on the conservation of native habitats as well as beneficial management practices in habitats altered or modified by human activities to ensure they are suitable for the Short-eared Owl, i.e. capable of sustaining prey populations and ensuring the complete life cycle, particularly the breeding part of the cycle. As for the long-term objectives, promoting an increase in the area of occupancy will necessitate additional efforts, including targeted habitat restoration in human-occupied landscapes (used year-round by the species and therefore of high conservation concern). Appendix A presents a preliminary list of areas of conservation interest for the Short-eared Owl in Canada based on recurrent observations over the past decades.

These objectives may be reviewed during the development of the report required five years after the management plan is posted to assess the implementation of the management plan and the progress towards meeting its objectives (s. 72, SARA).

Conservation and Management
Surveys, Monitoring and Research
Awareness and Partnerships

The broad strategies to achieve the Short-eared Owl management objectives are as follows:

  1. Conservation and management of the species and its suitable habitats across the breeding, migrating and wintering ranges;
  2. Conducting surveys, monitoring and research on the species, its habitats and threats across the breeding, migrating and wintering ranges; and
  3. Promoting awareness and partnerships with regard to conservation priorities.
Table 4. Conservation Measures and Implementation Schedule.
Broad Strategy Conservation Measures Priority Table Footnoter Threats or Concerns Addressed Timeline
Conservation and management of the species and its suitable habitats across the breeding, migrating and wintering ranges

Identify and implement national and regional conservation priorities using multi-species or ecosystem approaches to the conservation and management (including restoration where needed) of large tracts of grasslands, wetlands and other open habitats:

  • Prioritize the conservation of native habitat at high risk of being lost or degraded owing to changes in land use (particularly when the land is used year-round)
  • Use or draw on existing habitat management and conservation programs in Canada (see section 6.1) and the United States (e.g. the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program)
  • Promote beneficial management practices (e.g. Rangeland Conservation Service Ltd., 2004; Haddow et al., 2013) to eliminate, reduce or mitigate threats:
    • Consider excluding any activities within a 200-m radius of all occupied nests
    • Promote reduced-till farming practices and delayed harvests to limit the presence of machinery in occupied habitats during the breeding season
    • Promote re-vegetation of stream banks (to provide nesting cover and cover for prey populations, for example)
    • Develop and promote integrated pest management to minimize impacts on prey species, while providing low-cost management of agricultural pests;
    • Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of beneficial management practices, and adapt them if necessary
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of habitat restoration methods
High All threats 2015-2025
Conservation and management of the species and its suitable habitats across the breeding, migrating and wintering ranges

Promote compliance with:

  • environmental laws and regulations that prevent disturbance to adults, nests and eggs for all types of activities and land tenures using an approach similar to the one developed by Environment Canada to prevent the incidental take of migratory birds Table Footnotes
  • policies:
    • Wetland management
    • Site reclamation using local native vegetation, when available
  • land use tools:
    • zoning (e.g. to prevent the loss of natural habitats)
High All threats 2015-2025
Conservation and management of the species and its suitable habitats across the breeding, migrating and wintering ranges Encourage the implementation of existing reduction policies and programs for pesticides, greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and fill the gaps related to other threats (if applicable). Medium 2. Aquaculture & agriculture (2.1 Annual & perennial non-timber crops); 11. Climate change &severe weather (11.1 Habitat shifting & alteration; 11.4 Storms & flooding) 2015-2025
Conservation and management of the species and its suitable habitats across the breeding, migrating and wintering ranges Reassess the NatureServe ranks to obtain a better correspondence between national and subnational scores. Medium/Low Conservation priority for species 2016
Conducting surveys, monitoring and research on the species, its habitats and threats across the breeding, migrating and wintering ranges

Update the protocols developed in the provinces and territories on the basis of recent recommendations (e.g. Calladine et al., 2008, 2010; Keyes, 2011) in order to develop and implement a standardized national monitoring protocol to clarify:

  • abundance and population trends
  • annual and seasonal movements
  • population dynamics and demographic data, including:
    • how the species reacts to different management regimes and fluctuations in the populations of key prey
      • consider including prey population surveys (e.g. small mammals and hare surveys in the Northwest Territories Table Footnotet)
  • links between the Canadian populations (e.g. stable isotopes, radio-telemetry, satellite telemetry, geolocators)
High Knowledge gaps 2015-2025
Conducting surveys, monitoring and research on the species, its habitats and threats across the breeding, migrating and wintering ranges

Conduct research and gather Aboriginal ecological data on:

  • breeding, foraging, migrating, and wintering habitat requirements at multiple spatio-temporal scales
  • the availability and distribution of suitable habitat at multiple spatio-temporal scales
  • the impacts of predators in the various habitat types used by the species
  • the interactive effects of ecosystem changes (e.g. climate change) on grassland birds and their habitats
  • the impacts of certain presumed secondary threats (e.g. windfarms)
High Knowledge gaps 2015-2025
Conducting surveys, monitoring and research on the species, its habitats and threats across the breeding, migrating and wintering ranges Establish a geospatial database on land use (habitats and threats) and do regular monitoring for the adaptation of conservation priorities. Medium All threats;
Knowledge gaps
Conducting surveys, monitoring and research on the species, its habitats and threats across the breeding, migrating and wintering ranges

Develop habitat suitability models for the Short-eared Owl or for multiple species (e.g. grassland birds) incorporating:

  • updated data from existing monitoring programs and databases (e.g. the nocturnal owl surveys managed by Bird Studies Canada; eBird)
  • vegetation cover
  • prey populations
Medium Knowledge gaps 2015-2025
Promoting awareness and partnerships relative to conservation priorities

Establish conservation priorities for the Short-eared Owl and its habitats by continuing or forming partnerships with:

  • the United States and Mexico through initiatives such as Partners in Flight
  • the provincial and territorial authorities;
  • Aboriginal peoples (including wildlife management boards);
  • other landowners and land-use planners (e.g. industries, farmers and associations such as the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and the Union des producteurs agricoles)
  • the research community (e.g. the Canadian Short-eared Owl Working Group) and the managers of volunteer programs (in Europe and Russia, for example)
High All threats 2015-2025
Promoting awareness and partnerships relative to conservation priorities

Determine effective methods to promote conservation measures to land managers, Aboriginal peoples and other stakeholders in an effort to increase their engagement:

  • participation at key stakeholder meetings (e.g. meetings of farmer associations
  • targeted newsletter for landowners in areas where the species is recurrent
Medium All threats 2015-2025

The performance indicators presented below provide a way to define and measure progress toward achieving the management objectives. Success in the implementation of this management plan will be measured every five years using the following indicators:

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In British Columbia, the areas of interest include:

  1. Fraser River delta
  2. Grasslands and wetlands along the Peace River (near the Alberta border)

In the Prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), the areas of interest include:

  1. The southern portion, mainly the grassland and residual pasture habitats in Bird Conservation Region 11 – Prairie Potholes

In Alberta, the areas of interest include:

  1. Agricultural areas, marshes and grasslands east of Lesser Slave Lake, along the Peace River (Grande Prairie, Fairview)
  2. Agricultural areas, marshes and grasslands of the Beaverhill Lake area

In Saskatchewan, the areas of interest include:

  1. Agricultural areas, marshes and grasslands along the North Saskatchewan River (North Battleford)
  2. Agricultural areas, marshes and grasslands along the shores of Last Mountain Lake
  3. Agricultural areas, marshes and grasslands along the shores of Quill Lake

In Manitoba, the areas where the species is recurrent are:

  1. Marshes and grasslands north of Lake Winnipegosis and near Clearwater Lake
  2. Agricultural areas, marshes and grasslands south of Lake Manitoba

In Ontario, the areas of interest include:

  1. Marshes and grasslands in the Hudson and James Bay lowlands
  2. Agricultural areas, marshes and grasslands along the shores of the Great Lakes
  3. Agricultural areas, marshes and grasslands near Lake St. Clair
  4. Agricultural areas in the Niagara peninsula (e.g. Haldimand and Hamilton)
  5. Insular agricultural areas near Kingston (e.g. Amherst Island and Wolfe Island; Weir, 2008; Keyes, 2011)

A number of agricultural areas farther from the major rivers and formerly occupied by the species seem to have been abandoned (Migration Research Foundation, 2004)

In Quebec, the areas of interest include:

  1. Agricultural areas, marshes and grasslands along the St. Lawrence River, particularly on the south shore (e.g. Rimouski), but also where there are some concentrations on the north shore (e.g. Havre Saint-Pierre, Blanc Sablon and Baie Comeau)
  2. Agricultural areas, marshes and grasslands of the Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean lowlands
  3. Agricultural areas in the Abitibi region
  4. Marshes and grasslands of the Magdalen Islands (records date from the late 80s/ early 90s)
  5. Marshes and grasslands of Chaleur Bay
  6. Marshes and grasslands of the James Bay lowlands (e.g. Boatswain Bay and Cabbage Bay)
  7. Open habitats along the La Grande River (e.g. Radisson)
  8. Open habitats along the Koksoak River

In the Atlantic provinces, the areas of interest include:

  1. Marshes and grasslands along the coast of New Brunswick
  2. Marshes and grasslands along the coast of Nova Scotia
  3. Marshes and grasslands of Prince Edward Island
  4. Marshes and grasslands along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision making and to evaluate whether the outcomes of a recovery planning document could affect any component of the environment or any of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy's (FSDS) goals and targets.

Conservation planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that implementation of management plans may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts upon non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the plan itself, but are also summarized below in this statement.

Overall, this management plan should have a positive effect on other species living in the same type of habitats as the Short-eared Owl, because it should reduce threats through the implementation of beneficial management practices. A number of sensitive bird species may benefit from the measures set forth in the management plan, including the Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia; SARA Endangered), Henslow's Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii; SARA Endangered), Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis; SARA Threatened), Sprague's Pipit (Anthus spragueii; SARA Threatened); Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus COSEWIC Threatened), Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna; COSEWIC Threatened), Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus; SARA Special Concern), Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus; SARA Special Concern), Baird's Sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii; SARA Special Concern), and Yellow Rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis; SARA Special Concern).

The possibility that this management plan will inadvertently generate negative effects on the environment and on other species has been considered. The majority of recommended actions are non-intrusive in nature, including surveys and awareness raising. We conclude that the present management plan is unlikely to produce significant negative effects.

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