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Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia, grassland, prairie dog colonies, site occupancy, South Dakota


Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) population declines have led to the owl’s designation as a species of conservation concern in South Dakota. Burrowing Owls nest primarily in black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colonies, but a significant proportion of colonies in South Dakota are not occupied by owls. We studied the influence of landscape-level habitat variables on colony selection by Burrowing Owls. We used call-playback surveys to document presence or absence of Burrowing Owls at 613 prairie dog colonies throughout western and central South Dakota. We used a geographic information system to calculate the percent cover of prairie dog colonies, grassland, cropland, and tree canopy in the surrounding landscape at four buffer sizes. We modeled Burrowing Owl occupancy of prairie dog colonies using logistic regression, and ranked models using Akaike’s Information Criterion. All competitive models contained a tree-canopy-cover variable. Increasing tree canopy cover within 800 m and 1200 m of colony centers was associated with decreasing likelihood of occupancy by Burrowing Owls. Grassland, cropland, and prairie dog colony cover variables did not influence occupancy by Burrowing Owls, and these variables did not improve model fit or discrimination. In landscapes where the presence of nesting burrows is not a limiting factor, as in central and western South Dakota, Burrowing Owls occupied colonies based on the absence of trees. Trees provide habitat for avian and mammalian predators and reduce the available foraging area for Burrowing Owls around prairie dog colonies. Management for Burrowing Owls should include conserving prairie dog colonies in landscapes with few trees and preventing the establishment of trees near occupied colonies.

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The Journal of Raptor Research





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The Raptor Research Foundation, Inc


© 2019 The Raptor Research Foundation, Inc.


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