Presentation of the Rescue & Re-introduction of the Eagle Owl population by the project Berguv NORD in northern Sweden

Introduction

During the late 1950s and 1960s ornithologists noted that the Eagle Owl population in the northern part(Norrland) of Sweden was decreasing.

These alarming reports continued in the ´70s and as a consequence the project "Berguv NORD" was organised.

The original aim of the project was to save the Eagle Owl from extinction by breeding chicks and releasing them, thus increasing the population.

The project was launched in 1977 by a small group of interested bird watchers and environmental protection people, who were all interested in saving this important predator. In order to get a complete view of the situation, the project started by surveying old and existing nesting places or males occupying territories.

Old abandoned nesting places were of special interest for gathering information about the population in the late 19th and early 20th century.

During this phase, importing of breeding pairs from another project in southern Sweden also took place at the same time as setting up local breeding cages within the project. Know-how and ideas were also subseqently acquired from the project "Berguv Sydväst" project which was closing down its breeding programme.

Analysis

We found that it was not only sufficient to increase the number of wild Eagle Owls but of greater importance was the need to raise public awareness. It was necessary to advice the general public of the need for this top-level predator in nature and the necessity for an ecological balance in the environment in our part of the country.

Objectives

In the late `70s in northern Sweden, three major reasons for the deminishing population of Eagle Owls were found;

A; Effects of hunting, disturbances and hatred of predators.

Due to government payments to hunters plus the suspicion that this giant raptor was stealing the hares, the nesting females were also shot. Finally the environment was drained of adult birds at the best nesting places. This continued well beyond the year 1950 when the Eagle Owl became protected by law.

B; Medium and low-voltage electricity distribution lines and transformers.

There is a constant-high mortality rate of young birds owing to collisions with electrocution by the connections and line system in the early 1920s coincided with the time when the numbers of the Eagle Owl were rapidly declining.

C; Year around base food stock; the Brown Rat.

Modern public hygiene regulations and extensive urbanisation have lead to rubish tips being closed down to reduce the numbers of the brown rat.Thus the year-round availability of food for the owls has been limited, especially in remote areas, which has reduced the numbers of young owls.

Planning of the project

Due to the immense areas of the northern part of Sweden which the project was going to cover, the project decided to reduce the area of releases and surveys of former breeding habitats, to 100 km distance from the coastline. The distance from south to north parts of the area is about 1 000 km.

In this way, the costs of covering the active area is considerable reduced and yet the knowledge of the wild population was well covered, finding the best habitats with good opportunities for nesting and identifying certain areas for hunting.

Expected achievement

Once the public accepts the reintroduction of this top-level raptor, then the importance of this bird and the future protection of all raptors becomes obvious and is accepted. In this way, the public will protect the species from being illegally hunted and future acceptance of all raptor birds is ensured. For this reason, the communication of information by getting on speaking terms with the local people is vital and avoids the "outsiders" syndrome.

Progress to date

By organising complete mini-projects in every community (kommun), a flexible and safe organisation was built up with no risks of possible foreign penetration of breeding places and cages. Also the public contact with the local organisation enhanced two-way communication with important "back-feeding" of information without external help and with limited financial support.

The local mini-projects thus took on the work-load in an efficient and cheap way, safeguarding the goals and working hard for a long period of time.

In this way, the production facilieties established for the whole project were:

5 regional councils, organising 26 communities, covering 43 breeding sites with 70 breeding Eagle Owl pairs, producing more than 100 chicks for release every year.

The breeding places also have spare cages for hospitalised Eagle Owls, as well as other wild raptors, can be reintroduced after minor injuies. This hospital work has big tactical impact on the public who really care about "the little owls" being treated and released again.

In this way we receive donations for breeding places and ensure preventiion of the species flowing into the "black market"

In this way, some 250 naturalists can run the project and cover the entire area with the help of local people and supporters.

The aim and the results of the active phase of the project have shown growing tactical understanding, acceptance and support of all aspects of environmental protection measures in the "Norrland" region.

The Eagle Owl population has now been raised from the all-time low 1n 1983 of only 2 breeding wild pairs to some 80 pairs and 80 habitat-holding males, equal to the level of the early 20th century.

The breeding part of the project will be brought to a halt in five year`s time, giving time to survey the results of the release of chicks and the rate at which the Eagle Owl establishes itself in the early part of the 21st century.

© Berguv Nord 1996-2012