We analyzed the population dynamics of a burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) colony at Mineta San Jose International Airport in San Jose, California, USA from 1990–2007. This colony was managed by using artificial burrows to reduce the occurrence of nesting owls along runways and within major airport improvement projects during the study period. We estimated annual reproduction in natural and artificial burrows and age-specific survival rates with mark-recapture techniques, and we estimated the relative contribution of these vital rates to population dynamics using a life table response experiment. The breeding colony showed 2 distinct periods of change: high population growth from 7 nesting pairs in 1991 to 40 pairs in 2002 and population decline to 17 pairs in 2007. Reproduction was highly variable: annual nesting success (pairs that raised ≥1 young) averaged 79% and ranged from 36% to 100%, whereas fecundity averaged 3.36 juveniles/pair and ranged from 1.43 juveniles/pair to 4.54 juveniles/pair. We estimated annual adult survival at 0.710 during the period of colony increase from 1996 to 2001 and 0.465 during decline from 2002 to 2007, but there was no change in annual survival of juveniles between the 2 time periods. Long-term population growth rate (λ) estimated from average vital rates was λa= 1.072 with λi = 1.288 during colony increase and λd = 0.921 (Δλ = 0.368) during decline. A life table response experiment showed that change in adult survival rate during increasing and declining phases explained more than twice the variation in growth rate than other vital rates. Our findings suggest that management and conservation of declining burrowing owl populations should address factors that influence adult survival.
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Vol. 75 • No. 6