A young Northern Spotted Owl chick is seen in this undated handout photo. It takes fake eggs, sterile incubators, some trickery and years of trial and error to breed Canada’s almost extinct northern spotted owl in captivity. Researchers at British Columbia’s Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program centre in Langley say their fingers are crossed this spring as they delicately tend to at least one fertile egg, due to hatch within days. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program)

B.C. spotted owl breeders hoping for new chicks as fertile eggs ready to hatch

Breeding success will boost survival chances for the owls that are near extinction

It takes fake eggs, sterile incubators, some trickery and years of trial and error to breed Canada’s almost extinct northern spotted owl in captivity.

Researchers at British Columbia’s Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program centre in Langley say their fingers are crossed this spring as they delicately tend to at least one fertile egg, due to hatch within days.

READ MORE: Man pulls over to help injured owl, gets hit by SUV

“We’ve learned a lot,” said spotted owl specialist Jasmine McCulligh, the centre’s program co-ordinator. “We’ve seen a lot of good behaviour from our (breeding) pairs. We’ve just had a really good season. I’m hoping it will be our best year ever.”

Breeding success will boost survival chances for the owls that are listed as endangered and near extinction, said McCulligh.

No northern spotted owls have been released since the breeding program’s inception in 2007.

“We want to have a good captive population and a surplus of owls before we start releasing them into the wild,” said McCulligh.

There are five breeding pairs at the centre and the goal is to double that before releasing between 10 and 20 offspring annually, McCulligh said.

When that time comes, she said they plan to release their first owls in the Bridge River-Seton watershed area near Lillooet.

But until that day arrives, the breeders will be wearing lab coats, gloves and masks as they attempt to raise newborn chicks from fragile eggs.

McCulligh said the process involves removing the fertile egg from the nest and replacing it with a robotic egg that collects data during the 32 days it takes for the real egg to hatch. The female owl sits on the fake egg while the real egg is placed in an incubator, said McCulligh.

“They are very delicate,” she said. “They could get cracked accidentally. We don’t want to risk a talon going through an eggshell, any bacteria on the nest.”

Once the egg hatches, the breeders feed and monitor the chick for at least 10 days before placing it back into the nest, where the owl continues parenting as if nothing unusual has occurred, she said.

“She’s expecting it to be 32 days sitting on this egg and then it’s going to hatch and be this tiny little 30-gram chick,” McCulligh said. “The timing is a lot off, but she doesn’t seem to mind.”

She said they’ve also discovered the breeding pairs are open to adoption.

“They’ll take back any chick,” McCulligh said. “It doesn’t have to be their biological chick. We’ve had a chick … who was found in the wild and she was three weeks old. We gave it to a female who had never seen a chick in her life and she and her mate took care of the chick.”

And if having to sit on a robotic egg for 32 days or raising a chick from another owl isn’t enough, the breeders also attempt to trick the females into producing more eggs each breeding season.

McCulligh said the breeders employ a so-called double-clutch technique where the female lays eggs twice during the breeding season. She said they immediately remove the first egg from the nest, which usually results in the female laying a second egg days later.

If all goes well, the centre plans to set up a camera and live stream the owl chick and its parents in the next several weeks.

Northern spotted owls once thrived throughout old-growth forests ranging from B.C.’s southern Interior to California. The B.C. Forest Ministry said at one time there were up to 1,000 owls in the province, but habitat loss and competition from the barred owl have reduced the population to less than a dozen.

In an effort to resurrect the population, the province protected 325,000 hectares of the owl’s habitat, embarked on a cull of barred owls in spotted owl territory and launched the captive breeding program.

Protection of the owls fuelled long-running disputes between environmental groups and forest companies as their fate was often tied to saving old-growth forests where they live.

The environmental group Wilderness Committee said more than 70 per cent of the spotted owl’s old-growth habitat, from northern California to B.C., has been logged.

Dirk Meissner , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Multi-vehicle collision on highway in Chilliwack

Accident involves several vehicles, in the westbound lanes says Drive BC

Age nothing but a number for women in Fraser Valley 7-a-side soccer league

Rockers’ soccer 7-a-side league is for women 30 and older

Agassiz bus driver’s seatbelt petition heads to Ottawa

Gary Lillico is hoping his one-month petition will make a mark on the House of Commons

No crackers for quackers: Hope resident warns fellow locals to not feed wild birds

‘You should not feed wildlife anything—they don’t need it,’ Wildlife Rescue Association says

Man dead after motorcycle crash in Hope, police watchdog says

Thursday’s crash is still being investigated by the IIO

VIDEO: Quadriplegic man takes flight over Harrison Mills

Jim Ryan hasn’t moved his arms or legs for three years, but that didn’t stop him from paragliding

‘Teams that win are tight’: B.C. Lions search for chemistry at training camp

The Lions added more than 50 new faces over the off-season, from coaching staff to key players

Rescue crews suspend search for Okanagan kayaker missing for three days

71-year-old Zygmunt Janiewicz was reported missing Friday

B.C. VIEWS: Reality of our plastic recycling routine exposed

Turns out dear old China wasn’t doing such a great job

Structure fire destroys Surrey tire shop

RCMP have closed Fraser Highway down to traffic from 152 Street to 88 Avenue

Carbon dioxide at highest levels for over 2.5 million years, expert warns of 100 years of disruption

CO2 levels rising rapidly, now higher than at any point in humanity’s history

Man dies after being hit by car in East Vancouver

The driver involved is cooperating with police

B.C. ferry stops to let black bear swim past near Nanaimo

Queen of Oak Bay brakes for wildlife in Nanaimo’s Departure Bay

Mother dead, child in critical condition after carbon monoxide poisoning at Shuswap campground

The woman was found unresponsive insider her tent and the youth was taken via air ambulance to hospital

Most Read