Volume 78, Issue 5 p. 772-778
Commentary

Assessing the status and conservation priorities of the short-eared owl in North America

Travis L. Booms

Corresponding Author

Travis L. Booms

Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 1300 College Road, Fairbanks, AK, 99701-1551 USA

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Geoffrey L. Holroyd

Corresponding Author

Geoffrey L. Holroyd

Environment Canada, Beaverhill Bird Observatory, Box 33, Site 2, RR 2, Tofield, AB, T0B 4J0 Canada

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Marcel A. Gahbauer

Marcel A. Gahbauer

Migration Research Foundation, P.O. Box 10005, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC, H9X0A6 Canada

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Helen E. Trefry

Corresponding Author

Helen E. Trefry

Canadian Wildlife Service, Beaverhill Bird Observatory, Box 33, Site 2, RR 2, Tofield, AB, T0B 4J0 Canada

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David A. Wiggins

David A. Wiggins

Hallkved, Glupen 299, 755 97 Uppsala, Sweden

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Denver W. Holt

Denver W. Holt

Owl Research Institute, P.O. Box 39, Charlo, MT, 59824 USA

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James A. Johnson

James A. Johnson

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management, 1011 E. Tudor Road, MS 201, Anchorage, AK, 99503 USA

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Stephen B. Lewis

Stephen B. Lewis

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management, 3000 Vintage Boulevard, Suite 240, Juneau, AK, 99801 USA

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Matt D. Larson

Matt D. Larson

Owl Research Institute, P.O. Box 39, Charlo, MT, 59824 USA

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Kristen L. Keyes

Kristen L. Keyes

Migration Research Foundation, PO Box 10005, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC, H9X0A6 Canada

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Scott Swengel

Scott Swengel

909 Birch Street, Baraboo, WI, 53913 USA

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First published: 20 May 2014
Citations: 14
Associate Editor: Marc Bechard.

Abstract

The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Christmas Bird Count, and regional and national conservation assessments provide convincing evidence that the short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) is experiencing a range-wide, long-term decline in abundance in North America. However, the species has received little conservation or research attention. The short-eared owl is vulnerable to decline because it relies heavily on large, intact grasslands and a specialized diet of unpredictable small mammal prey. The species' nomadic movements compound these vulnerabilities by making a decline difficult to detect with current monitoring programs while obfuscating stewardship responsibilities for managers. The primary threat to the species is loss, fragmentation, and degradation of large tracts of native grasslands and wetlands. We propose the following conservation priorities to better understand and begin addressing the short-eared owl's decline: 1) better define and protect important habitats; 2) improve population monitoring; 3) determine seasonal and annual movements; 4) re-evaluate NatureServe's short-eared owl national conservation classifications; 5) develop management plans and tools; and 6) classify raptors, including short-eared owls, as migratory birds in Canada. We contend that the short-eared owl's need for habitat conservation at large spatial scales, status as a predator, and high reproductive potential that affords the species capacity to recover, make it an effective and useful candidate as an umbrella species for grassland conservation. © 2014 The Wildlife Society.