Royal Saskatchewan. Museum studying the adaptation of Great Horned Owls to human-modified landscapes

“It’s a unique animal that has been able to persist and even thrive in a landscape that has been really, really altered.”

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In Saskatchewan, owls are not what they seem.

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The great horned owl, in particular, is more than a fine example of the family Strigidae – it’s an example of how nature can adapt to human-modified landscapes. Now the Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM) is undertaking a year-long study to document where owls nest in the province and how they have adapted.

Ryan Fisher, curator of vertebrate zoology at RSM, described the study as a citizen science endeavor that will rely on people across Saskatchewan to report their findings.

So if you see a great horned owl in Saskatchewan, Fisher wants to know.

Owls are notable for adapting to human-modified terrain in a way that many other specs are not, making them unique and a curious case to study. Great horned owls are the most numerous owls in Saskatchewan, Fisher said, adding that they are found throughout the province.

“You can find it at Saskatchewan’s northernmost border, southernmost border, and easternmost and westernmost borders,” he said.

“Great horned owls have a knack for exploiting human-altered landscapes.”

Great horned owls are the most numerous owls in Saskatchewan.
Great horned owls are the most numerous owls in Saskatchewan. Photo by Ryan Fisher /PROVIDED

The birds will nest in windbreaks, abandoned barns and structures, barnyard trees, or high, secluded locations in a large city. This means that their footprint in Saskatchewan has extended from the days of European settlement to the present day. Once restricted to small clumps of trees and river valleys, the owl has spread and spread.

Another benefit for owls is that they like to search for prey from a high vantage point, scanning the city or grassland floor from trees, power lines, lampposts or fence posts, from the roof of a Quonset or other suitable location.

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“We’ve created all these great hunting spots now for this particular owl,” Fisher said.

This means that owls have been able to adapt to humans and our structures as the natural world changes.

“It’s really different from a lot of other creatures that we know don’t respond very well to changes in the landscape. And that’s why we’re studying great horned owls,” Fisher said.

“It’s a unique animal that has been able to persist and even thrive in a landscape that has been really, really altered.”

Ryan Fisher, curator at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum is working on a research project with horned owls.
Ryan Fisher, curator at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum is working on a research project with horned owls. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Chief’s Post

Fisher says the owls are big “charismatic creatures” and hopes people will eagerly report their sightings. A Google form was set up by the University of Regina to collect bulk data from citizen scientists.

One thing to keep in mind when doing your own sightings is to keep your distance from the owls as best you can. Owls are quite sensitive to disturbance, which is why the RSM asks people to take extra care and keep their distance when recording and viewing animals.

And time is running out. According to Fisher, February through March is usually when owls start nesting, which is much earlier than other birds, and is therefore most observable at this time, as owls hoot and hunt around. their nests.

Fisher said the plan is to run the study until at least 2023, but he hopes to continue it for a few years. Collecting data will mean that future researchers will have a great reference tool showing where owl populations are, making observations and studies easier.

February to March is usually when great horned owls start nesting, which is much earlier than other birds.
February to March is usually when great horned owls start nesting, which is much earlier than other birds. Photo by Ryan Fisher /PROVIDED

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