Blakiston’s Fish Owl Project

Alt Text
Dr. Jonathan Slaght, who leads the Blakiston's
Fish Owl Project for WCS, on a fish owl capture.
Photo by John Goodrich, WCS.

In Russia, Blakiston's fish owl habitat is under increasing threat from human development, primarily logging. However, a lack of the most simple baseline ecological data has prevented development of conservation or habitat management plans for this species. In association with the Vladivostok-based NGO Amur-Ussuri Center for Avian Diversity, we have been addressing Blakiston’s fish owl conservation problems in Russia since 2005. We approach fish owl conservation by focusing on three critical areas: research, capacitybuilding, and conservation awareness.

Past Research

From 2005-2010, we analyzed resourceselection by these owls within a 20,213 km2study area in Primorye, and identified areas with the highest predicted probability of use by owls to prioritize areas for conservation and management. 

We found that the network of protected areas within the study area contained only 21% of primary fish owl habitat, and potentially contained only 7 fish owl territories.  We also found that 39% of primary habitat was within current logging leases, which was capable of supporting habitat equivalent to 18 fish owl territories.  The remainder of primary habitat (40%) was on federal land not presently protected or within logging leases, and potentially contained 29 fish owl territories. 

The current protected area network, by itself, will be insufficient to conserve fish owls because so few owl territories are actually protected.  Therefore, we developed specific conservation recommendations within logging leases based on the observed resource selection patterns by the owls.  Our recommendations include protecting specific locations within potential territories, maintaining integrity of riparian areas, modifying road construction techniques, and closing old logging roads to reduce human access.  These simple measures have the potential not only to conserve fish owls but also many other species, making this owl an effective umbrella species for the riparian ecosystems of the region.

A more extensive list of past research can be found here.

Current Research

Along with our partner the Amur-Ussuri Center for Avian Biodiversity, we are presently working on a project to assess the feasibility of a "passive" biological monitoring program, where individual fish owls can be identified based on their vocal signatures.

We are also working with other NGOs in the region to develop recommendations for roads management practices that reduce the impact that logging roads have on fish owl populations.

Capacity Building

Scientists in the Russian Far East are frequently confronted with a language barrier that effectively prevents information exchange with the broader scientific community. As a result, these researchers are generally poorly-funded and isolated from their international peers. Our work with Blakiston's fish owls hs continuing to address this issue by exposing collaborating Russian scientists and wildlife technicians to rigorous scientific methods and data collection techniques.

Conservation Awareness  

In order to effectively share what we learn from this study, we are disseminating information about our progress and final results on local, national, and international levels. 

On the local level (Primorskii Krai), we have and will continue to provide educational materials to Russian NGOs such as Amur-Ussuri Center for Avian Diversity, Phoenix Fund, and Uragus Ecological Club. These groups educate the public about conservation issues facing Primorskii Krai’s wilderness. The integration of Blakiston’s fish owl ecology into their programs results in greater public awareness, which is critical to conservation efforts.

A list of our publications and other media attention can be found here.

Learn more about Blakiston's fish owls! Visit our dedicated project site here, or head straight to theLinks and Downloads page.