Population Dynamics of Burrowing Owls on Kirtland Air Force Base
September 2016 - September 2023
- Kirtland Air Force Base
Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) were once a common breeder in grasslands and deserts throughout the western U.S. and Canada. Burrowing Owl populations have declined, and the species has been extirpated from areas on the western, northern, and eastern periphery of their breeding range. Burrowing Owls are now federally endangered in Canada, and are listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a Species of National Conservation Concern in the U.S. Burrowing Owls are also listed as endangered in Minnesota and Iowa, and are being considered or have been petitioned for state listing in California and Washington. Populations have declined in other states including Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. Hence, Burrowing Owls are listed as a high priority species in state Partners-in-Flight conservation plans and as a high responsibility species in the New Mexico Partners-in-Flight plan.
Burrowing owls occupy areas dominated by grassland, shrub-steppe, desert, and agricultural production. As one of the largest land managers in the interior western United States, the Department of Defense (DoD) bears management responsibility for a substantial proportion of remaining Burrowing Owl populations and their habitat. Furthermore, wildlife populations on DoD installations are facing increasing pressures because lands adjacent to many DoD installations have accelerating land use change (e.g., urbanization). The DoD Partners in Flight (PIF) program seeks to ensure the ongoing success of the military mission by maintaining the biotic integrity and sustainability of DoD testing and training lands through land stewardship, population monitoring, research, communication, education, and cooperation with other agencies and stake-holders.
The DoD PIF have identified the Burrowing Owl as a mission sensitive priority species (DoD Natural Resource Program 2014). Improved monitoring, research, and pro-active management of Burrowing Owls on DoD lands is vital to supporting the military mission. These actions will help identify the management role of DoD for conserving Burrowing Owls nesting in the region, potentially help prevent further listing efforts, and provide information on risk and frequency of bird strike hazards. As a declining species on Kirtland AFB, examining the local status, distribution, abundance, breeding behavior, and foraging habits of Burrowing Owls will facilitate successful mitigation and relocation efforts that may be needed to balance natural resource management with military readiness.