Western Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia hypugaea; hereafter, Burrowing Owls) were once widespread residents of grasslands throughout western North America, but their range has contracted, and abundance has declined in some regions. The causes of declines and geographic variation in population trends of Burrowing Owls are unclear but may be linked to changing land use and urbanization. Burrowing Owls are often found in association with airfields and airports, and their presence at such facilities is sometimes considered to be in conflict with those operations. Documenting the long-term persistence of Burrowing Owls at active airfields can help airfield managers who face decisions regarding compatibility of owls and airfield operations. We report the results of a long-term effort to monitor Burrowing Owls on Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, USA, including the rapid recovery of Burrowing Owl numbers from near-extirpation and the relationships between abundance and other demographic traits. The number of breeding pairs of Burrowing Owls increased from one pair in 2013 to 28 pairs in 2019 and 2020, and the number of fledglings produced increased from one in 2013 to 84 in 2019 and 61 in 2020. The recovery was not uniform across all areas of Kirtland Air Force Base, and some formerly occupied areas remained unoccupied. We documented dispersal outside the Air Force base boundary and that the number of breeding pairs was more strongly influenced by the number of offspring produced in the prior year than the number of owls returning from prior years, which indicated that the population is part of a larger meta-population. Our results demonstrate that the maintenance of Burrowing Owl populations is not necessarily at odds with safe airfield operations, that Burrowing Owls exhibit complex population dynamics, and can rapidly recolonize previously occupied areas if habitat and nest sites remain suitable.

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