British Columbia

Bird lovers get rare look at youngest member of one of the most endangered species in Canada

Researchers at a Langley, B.C. care centre are offering a rare look at northern spotted owl chicks being fostered by adoptive owl parents.

Northern spotted owl chick hatched in incubator, placed with foster owl-parents at Langley spotted owl centre

A young northern spotted owl chick under the care of the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program centre in Langley. The centre says it takes fake eggs, sterile incubators, some trickery and years of trial and error to breed Canada's almost extinct northern spotted owl in captivity. (Ho/Canadian Press)

Researchers at a Langley, B.C. care centre are offering a rare look at northern spotted owl chicks.

A webcam has been set up above the nest of a pair of them, just days after a newly hatched chick was placed inside.

Fewer than 10 northern spotted owls are left in the wild in Canada, so a breeding program in Langley, B.C., takes a fertile egg from a captive pair, incubates and hatches it and then transfers the chick to foster parents.

It's hoped the parents will then produce their own eggs in the next breeding season.

A chick, dubbed Chick F, was placed in the nest of a newly bonded pair on Tuesday and the webcam was turned on, revealing the female owl, Skalula, has adapted to her unexpected motherhood with ease.

A news release from the breeding program says there are five bonded pairs and 10 other birds in captivity and Chick F is one of three hatched in April with several more chicks expected this breeding season.

Two northern spotted owls under the care of the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program centre in Langley. (Ho/Canadian Press)

Record-breaking year

"This is leading up to a record breaking year in the number of chicks produced by the program," the release says.

All of the chicks are from eggs provided by a bonded pair, but the eggs were removed, incubated and the chick was fed for 10 days before being returned, either to the original nest or to a foster pair in an effort to kickstart their bonding and breeding.

The eggs are removed because they are very delicate and the program doesn't want to risk the loss of a single chick, owl specialist Jasmine McCulligh said in a recent interview.

A northern spotted owl egg hatches at the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program centre in Langley, B.C. Researchers at the centre says their fingers are crossed this spring as they delicately tend to at least one fertile egg due to hatch within days. (Ho/Canadian Press)

Aiming for family of 10

Robotic eggs are left in their place while the real egg is out of the nest and when it's returned, the owl resumes parenting as if nothing had occurred, McCulligh said.

The centre aims to house a total of 10 bonded, breeding pairs before it begins releasing as many as 20 juvenile owls every year, with the goal of restoring B.C.'s wild population to more than 200 adults over the next 10 to 15 years.

"If all goes well with breeding this year, owls will be released into 300,000 hectares of protected old growth forests starting as early as next spring," the release said.

Two northern spotted owls cared for at British Columbia's Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program centre in Langley, B.C. (Ho/Canadian Press)

Northern spotted owls once thrived throughout old growth forests ranging from B.C.'s southern Interior to California. The B.C. Forests Ministry said at one time there were up to 1,000 owls in the province, but habitat loss and competition from the barred owl have reduced the population to less than a dozen.

The breeding centre, launched in 2007, is working with The Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, a partnership between BC Hydro, the Province of B.C., Fisheries and Oceans Canada, First Nations, and public stakeholders to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife in watersheds impacted by BC Hydro dams.

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