There are plenty of wildlife conservation efforts in B.C. Individuals and organizations across the province continue to protect various endangered species from extinction. One of which, is the burrowing owl, a type of bird that most people have heard about because of it’s extremely endangered status. Many might have been introduced to it through T.V. or online but they actually have a home in the Nicola Valley. 

The Upper Nicola Band’s Cultural Heritage Department is on its eighth year of releasing burrowing owls into the wild. The band has developed a site by Douglas Lake dedicated to housing captive burrowing owls and assisting them until they are ready to fly down south. With their continuous efforts, the Nicola Naturalist Society have invited representatives from the project to learn more about it and discover opportunities to contribute to the efforts. 

On Thursday, January 19, Senior Cultural Heritage Technician Loretta Holmes and Animal Health Technician Dawn Brodie, presented to the Naturalist Society at the NVIT Lecture Theatre. 

“A lot of people were genuinely interested in the owl program at the Upper Nicola Band,” said Brodie. “We had a gentleman from the audience give his number and express his interest in volunteering, so I would say this was a success.”

There were 40 people in attendance all excited to learn about the fascinating fowl. The presentation consisted of a slide show, stories about Brodie and Holmes’ different experiences with the species, as well as a featured booth showing different burrowing owl paraphernalia. 

“We at the Cultural Heritage Department of Upper Nicola Band are very happy to have the interest and support that we have in the Burrowing Owl Reintroduction Program,” Holmes said. 

“It goes from the funding that we get federally, the assistance we receive from the Burrowing Owls Conservation Society that help us with the pairs we release in the spring, to the resources our band introduces, such as equipment and volunteers. We are also thankful to the volunteers from the Merritt and Kamloops communities helping us on site.”

Upper Nicola Band is well known for their efforts in the energy sector, with their world renowned solar farm. Their conservation efforts are also prolific as there are plenty of species they look after. 

Adult male and female burrowing owls. Photo/Dawn Brodie

“There’s been very few programs like this done by First Nations, and this is one of the very first ones,” Brodie noted. “The band has a few programs for species at risk, including spade foot toads, Lewis’ woodpeckers, white tailed deers, and burrowing owls.”

The burrowing owl reintroduction project began in 2015. Now on it’s eighth year of release, it took Upper Nicola two years planning to get the project underway.  

“You have to look at recovery of species as a long term investment of time,” said Brodie. “This is a huge commitment and these species might be managed forever.”

There are 20 artificial nesting homes installed at their site for the people behind the project to assist these birds. 

“The owls only have a toe hold on survival,” Brodie described. “They are basically on ‘life support’, barely hanging in there as a species in B.C. Being a migratory species, they are faced with a lot of dangers between here and their wintering ground.”

Brodie notes that through their efforts, the burrowing owl population is able to be maintained. Once released, male and female owls pair up and nest in the wild creating a ‘wild offspring’ that continues to populate the species.

“Each bird is valuable, each bird counts, and each bird means a lot to us,” said Holmes. “This is the reason why we put so much into supplement feeding because each life is very important.”

With one presentation down, Holmes and Brodie look forward to others they will do for the rest of the season, with the next one being a talk at the Kamloops United Church in March.