In November, a team of Biologists from Madrone Environmental Services connected about installing owl nest boxes along SPL trails as a part of the Recovery Plan for Western Screech-Owls priority breeding habitats. In true SPL spirit a group of us helped build and install 31 owl nest boxes to go along our famous bog trail. I’d like to share my thoughts on why this project holds immense value.. for the owls, the surrounding ecosystem, and for the people that visit this space.
Who are Western-Screech Owls?
They are small owls with brown streaked markings on their body, tufted ears, and yellow eyes (pictured above). These owls typically nest in tree cavities in mature forests with Douglas fir and western hemlocks being amongst their favorites. They tend to create nests in forests close to marshes, bogs, and wet areas. Their nesting window is between March 15-August 15.
You can listen to their call here.. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Screech-Owl/overview#
Why are Western Screech Owls having trouble finding a place to call home?
The Western Screech owl’s population is in decline 17-32% annually due to a loss of habitat from forest harvesting and land development. Active Western-Screech Owl nests are protected by BC’s Wildlife Act, however legal protection for their breeding habitats is limited as they are not yet included on the ‘Identified Wildlife’ list. By not being a species fully classified as ‘at risk’ tools such as wildlife habitat area designations aren’t able to be put into place, which increases the likelihood that their habitats will continue to be disrupted. As a result, the goal of The Recovery Plan for The Western Screech-Owl focuses on protecting priority breeding habitats (Madrone Environmental Services, 2021).
Habitats in the Campbell River Watershed were affected from flooding caused by hydroelectric power facilities. Through funding from BC Hydro, an owl nest box project and monitoring program was initiated in 2001 in the CRW to promote habitat restoration. The team at Madrone Environmental Services have continued surveying new areas that owls might choose as homes.. The bog by SPL was recently identified as one of these areas.
If you identify an owl or owl nest you can notify a Biologist at Madrone Environmental Services and submit a Wildlife-Species Inventory Form at https://a100.gov.bc.ca/pub/wiof/locationForm.do
Connect Respect Ripple Effect
For myself, a project like this illuminates how singular actions do not generally have a singular impact. That if we choose to look further we can see the waves and ripples that are created from our decisions.
A person I admire once told me, that without the ability to move their eyes owls cannot see their larger surroundings unless they move their whole head. I think the same applies to us, that in order to see the larger context or to look beyond, a shift of sorts is required.
I’ve been thinking about this sentiment and how it is connected to this project and the youth that visit these spaces during our programs. In my eyes, installing nest boxes creates a physical space for owls to reside, which is of course important but I wonder if owls also look for that feeling of true belonging- that internal draw towards something that isn’t always explainable, to know they’ve made it home. Maybe the larger connection has to do with the notion of finding home vs finding a home? A notion that is completely personal and would change depending on who you ask but I think the universality of it has to do with a deep sense of safety.
There is no way of knowing if the owls’ internal compass will point them towards our bog trail, but after walking amongst this forest time after time I feel an unwavering sense of optimism that they too will feel the same sense of arrival.
The foundation of our programs here at SPL are built off of the idea that facilitating a space where students feel safe to be themselves has the potential to create strong ripples. It’s incredible to watch the shift in students when they decide to trust themselves and open up to their surroundings. I think the same goes for being a steward of the land, that by protecting wild spaces there is then an opening for the space to feel safe and in turn belong.
When we have experiences that provide us the ability to feel reciprocity we are more likely to feel inspired to take steps to protect these connections. Through protecting these wild spaces for the owls we are in turn protecting a place where our students can engage in learning, exploration, and reflection. Through students having experiences in safe spaces a link can be formed between learning and action.
My hope is that, like the forest, we too can be rooted in this reality of reciprocity.
-Sophie O’Brien, Program Manager
Madrone Environmental Services. (2021). Best Management Practices and Habitat Enhancement for Coastal Western Screech-owls.