Optimism abounds for an endangered species of predatory bird as eight burrowing owls have been returned to their natural habitat, which happens to be on a Canadian Forces Base, following months in captivity.

The birds were removed from the area as owlets and cared for by Calgary Zoo staff until they matured to increase their likelihood of survival.

Armed forces members at CFB Suffield, under the tutelage of Calgary Zoo and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) experts, cleared potential hazards from the CFB Suffield National Wildlife Area and helped dig burrows ahead of the owls return.

The owls were released into their nests as pairs of one-year-olds in the hopes that the birds will successfully breed.

Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, director of conservation and science at the Calgary Zoo, admits a collaboration of soldiers and zoo staff is an unusual pairing but says everyone involved had the owls’ best interest at heart.

“Endangered species like burrowing owls need our help and they need it now,” said Moehrenschlager in a release. “Who would think that the Calgary Zoo would be working with the Department of National Defence, as well as Environment and Climate Change Canada, to help save species?”

“We are so proud to work together to restore this precious part of our Canadian natural heritage.”

According to the ECCC, there may be as few as 400 male/female pairs of burrowing owls left in Canada.

CFB Suffield is located north of the Trans-Canada Highway and approximately 40 kilometres northwest of Medicine Hat.