For ground- and burrow-nesting birds, heavy rain events can lead to reproductive failure when nests flood. This paper describes the exposure of Florida Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia floridana) to breeding season flooding, its relationship to annual reproductive success rates, and effect on nest failure across 5 cattle ranches in southwestern Florida, USA. In May 2016, a heavy rain event following an unusually wet dry season led to extensive burrow flooding and widespread reproductive failure in 1 of the breeding sites under study. In 2017 and 2018, burrows flooded frequently but the occurrence of flooding later in the breeding season was not associated with a lower overall annual reproductive success rate. Brood age at the time of flooding had a significant relationship with the probability that a particular nest failed, with the chance of event survival increasing from 12% in week 3 to 58% in week 4. All but 1 brood that experienced flooding in week 5 or later survived at least partially. Our findings indicate that flooding is a common occurrence that Florida Burrowing Owls breeding on cattle ranches can tolerate, but extreme precipitation, especially early in the breeding season or when broods are young, can cause widespread nest failure. Annual productivity could be affected if these events increase in frequency with climate change, but the inclusion or maintenance of elevated ground within the ranch landscape could provide refugia.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.