(also called a "ground owl")

an endangered species

burrowing owl, naturepicsonline.com
image credit: Alan and Elaine Wilson, Nature's Pics Online


Why is the burrowing owl disappearing?

-too many predators
-not enough burrows (animals that dig burrows are declining)
-loss of grasslands (land is used for farming, roads, homes)
-poisoning (owls eat animals that have been poisoned)
-spray used to kill grasshoppers harms the owl

How many are there?

-1988 count : 4 pairs in B.C., 1000 in Alberta, 1500 in Sask., 28 in Manitoba
-1998 count : none nesting in B.C., 37 pairs in Alberta, 1 pair in Manitoba, 88 pairs in
-listed as an endangered species in Saskatchewan in 1999
-number of burrowing owls keeps declining
-2008 report Bird Species at Risk at Naturesask.ca

It is estimated that 500 to 800 pairs nest in Canada, with approximately half nesting in Saskatchewan. In Saskatchewan the population has declined 94% since the 1980s. In 2004, there were 47 pairs found nesting in Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan. In 2008 there were only 20 nesting pairs. They had completely disappeared from Manitoba and British Columbia. Now some have been sighted in 2006 and 2007 in Manitoba. The burrowing owl has been reintroduced in British Columbia.
-2010 report - naturesask.ca
In 2010, Operation Burrowing Owl participants reported 58 pairs of owls .....This is a 29% decrease from the 82 pairs reported by participants in 2009.
-British Columbia - In the spring of 2010, 23 burrowing owls returned to B.C. from
  migration. This is the largest number observed since the recovery program.


-prefers dry, short-grass prairies
-nests in Alberta, Saskatchewan, occasional sightings in Manitoba ( MAP )
-reintroduced in British Columbia
-most are nesting in the open countryside from Regina, SK and Brooks, AB
-found in the US, Central America and South America
-uses burrows left by badgers, ground squirrels or foxes
-usually nests in the same area every year, even same burrow


-funny looking, like a short fat owl on stilts
-large eyes with white "eyebrows"
-large wings, stubby tail
-long thin legs
-feathers are dark brown and light brown spotted with white
-underparts are pale brown to white spotted with brown
-young do not have spots or bars on their feathers
-female is smaller; she spends more time underground
-female is darker in colour
-male's colours look faded from being out in the sunlight
-24 cm. from head to tail
-about the size of a robin


-active during the day and night
-often seen standing near the entrance of the burrow
-in Canada a pair will nest alone, away from other owls
-sometimes nest in small groups


-eat a huge amount of insects (grasshoppers and beetles)
-also eat mice, voles, ground squirrels, toads, small birds
-will eat animals that are already dead
-chase insects and catch them with their feet
-hover close to the ground and dive at prey
-stand on posts and rocks to get a better view


-male prepares the burrow
-he digs and scrapes out the dirt
-lines burrow with dried plants, feathers and cow dung (dried manure)
-female lays 6 to 12 white eggs
-male brings food while she sits on eggs
-in four weeks eggs start hatching at different times
-egg laid first hatches first
-when nest gets too crowded older ones stand at entrance
-parents bring food till young are 7 or 8 weeks old
-family may use two or three burrows for the young


-colour of the feathers is a good camouflage
-male stands watch near the burrow
-sounds an alarm if enemy comes near
-adults try to lure enemy away
-young owls hiss like a snake to scare animals out of burrow
-live on the prairies for the spring and summer
-migrate south for the winter (Texas or Mexico)
-leave in September and return to Canada in late April
-burrow is lined, stays cool during the day, is warm at night
-cow dung in the burrow masks the owls' scent from enemies
-more than one burrow so predators do not kill entire family


-some people disturb their nesting areas
-snakes, owls, hawks, badgers, skunks, foxes, weasels, cats and dogs eat the young
  birds or the eggs
-owls are killed on roads and highways
-pesticides and chemicals used to kill insects and rodents harms the owls
-heavy rainstorms flood the burrows
-nests are close to humans (pastures, farmyards, roadsides, golf courses)
-young owls are easily spotted standing near the burrow


Why should we help?
These owls help farmers by eating insects and other pests.

How can people help?
-reporting any burrowing owl sightings
-leaving nesting sites alone
-setting aside land for nesting sites
-making artificial burrows for the owls to live in
-educating people about the burrowing owl
  (Burrowing Owl Interpretive Center in Moose Jaw) .
-raising owls in captivity ( Calgary Zoo)
-burrowing owl breeding facility, largest in the world
  (BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops)

scientific name - athene cunicularia
burrowing owl, license public domain, wikipedia
license - public domain; wikipedia


BURROWING OWL (report and photos)

INTERESTING LINKS about the burrowing owl (checked January 2017)

Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC - information, photos, reintroduction, webcam

Nature Saskatchewan - fact book
colouring page

Hinterland Who's Who - The Burrowing Owl

images courtesy of : Alan and Elaine Wilson; Nature's Pics Online
license Creative Commons Attribution-share Alike 3.0 Unported

map reproduced with permission of Canadian Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Federation

information gathered from the pamphlet Prairie Threatened Wildlife and Hinterland Who's Who

J.Giannetta (2001)
updated August 2011

web pages for students