Identifying environmental parameters that influence probability of nest predation is important for developing and implementing effective management strategies for species of conservation concern. We estimated daily nest survival for a migratory population of burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) breeding in black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colonies in Wyoming, USA. We compared estimates based on 3 common approaches: apparent nesting success, Mayfield estimates, and a model-based logistic-exposure approach. We also examined whether 8 intrinsic and extrinsic factors affected daily nest survival in burrowing owls. Positive biases in apparent nest survival were low (3–6%), probably because prior knowledge of nest locations and colonial behavior among nesting pairs facilitated discovery of most nests early in the nesting cycle. Daily nest survival increased as the breeding season progressed, was negatively correlated with ambient temperature, was positively correlated with nest-burrow tunnel length, and decreased as the nesting cycle progressed. Environmental features were similar between failed and successful nests based on 95% confidence intervals, but the seasonal midpoint was earlier for failed nests (31 May) compared to successful nests (15 Jun). The large annual variation in nest survival (a 15.3% increase between 2003 and 2004) accentuates the importance of multiyear studies when estimating reproductive parameters and when examining the factors that affect those parameters. Failure to locate and monitor nests throughout the breeding season may yield biased estimates of nesting success in burrowing owls (and possibly other species), and some of the variation in nesting success among years and across study sites may be explained by annual and spatial variation in ambient temperature. Any management actions that result in fewer prairie dogs, shorter burrow lengths, or earlier nesting may adversely affect reproductive success of burrowing owls.
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Vol. 73 • No. 2