Natural Resources, School of



Kent M. Eskridge

Date of this Version



Published in The Journal of Wildlife Management 64:4 (October 2000), pp. 1067-1075.


Concern over the status of species associated with prairie dog colonies has increased with the recent proposed listing of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus). We monitored burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) populations and prairie dog densities in 17 black-tailed prairie dog colonies in the Nebraska panhandle between 1990 and 1996. All prairie dog colonies were controlled at least once during the study. We observed a 63% decline in nesting pairs of burrowing owls and significant declines in burrow densities. Results indicated a time lag in owl response to changes in active burrow densities. However, in the later years of the study when burrow densities were lowest, owl numbers were positively correlated with the density of active burrows in the same years, indicating active burrows may become more important as burrow density declines. We also monitored fledging success of burrowing owls for 398 nesting attempts over 5 years (1989-93) for a larger set of colonies that included the 17 used in the owl and prairie dog monitoring. Differences in mean fledging success among colonies each year (colony effect) explained most of the variation in fledging success among nesting owls. Vulnerability to badger (Taxidea taxus) predation may in part explain differences in fledging success among colonies; badger predation on owl nests was lower when densities of active prairie dog burrows were high. Efforts are needed to ensure preservation of black-tailed prairie dog colonies for burrowing owls and other species associated with this prairie eco¬system, and to better monitor changes in burrowing owl and prairie dog populations.