Conservation Evidence strives to be as useful to conservationists as possible. Please take our survey to help the team improve our resource.

Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Release captive-bred individuals into the wild to restore or augment wild populations of owls Bird Conservation

Key messages

Read our guidance on Key messages before continuing

  • A study in the USA found that a barn owl Tyto alba population was established following the release of 157 birds in the area over three years.
  • A replicated, controlled study in Canada found that released burrowing owls Athene cunicularia had similar reproductive output, but higher mortality than wild birds, and no released birds returned after migration, although return rates for released birds’ offspring were no different from wild birds.


Supporting evidence from individual studies


A study in 1985 and 1986 (Henke & Crawford 1987) found three barn owl Tyto alba nests each year in a riverine marsh site in Missouri, USA, with at least 11 eggs being laid and a minimum of seven chicks fledging (complete data are not included). The site was the location of a reintroduction programme in 1983-5 which released 157 owls, and at least two and probably more of the parents at the nests found were captive-bred.



A replicated, controlled study in mixed grasslands in Saskatchewan, Canada, in the springs of 1997-2000 and 2002 (Poulin et al. 2006), found that 12 of 26 pairs of burrowing owls Athene cunicularia released together stayed together for the first breeding season, with eight pairs fledging a total of 43 young. Six birds paired with wild owls, raising 31 young in their first years. Reproductive output did not differ between wild and captive pairs, but mortality of released owls was significantly higher than wild birds (19% of 52 released birds dying vs. 4% of 780 wild birds). Five birds (10%) failed to migrate and no released birds returned after migration. Only one offspring from released birds returned to the area the following year, but this was not significantly different from return rates for the offspring of wild birds. This study also describes fostering and release techniques (see ‘Foster chicks with wild conspecifics’ and ‘Use holding pens at release sites’).


Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Williams, D.R., Child, M.F., Dicks, L.V., Ockendon, N., Pople, R.G., Showler, D.A., Walsh, J.C., zu Ermgassen, E.K.H.J. & Sutherland, W.J. (2019) Bird Conservation. Pages 141-290 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, N. Ockendon, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2019. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.