Wildlife Wednesday: Burrowing Owl

Learn about the burrowing owl, a goofy-faced bird that’s become scarce in Canada.

Owls have a reputation for being wise and regal birds. (Take the majestic snowy owl, for example.) Then there’s the burrowing owl: a short, chubby bird with a goofy expression and knock-kneed legs. Sadly, this jokester of the owl family has become scarce in parts of Canada.

Habitat

Preferring open grasslands, burrowing owls can be found across North and South America.

Trivia

  • Burrowing owls spend most of their time at ground level, where they’ve even been known to pursue prey on foot.
  • Unlike most owls, burrowing owls gather food during the day as well as night. This allows them to catch both sun-loving insects and night-loving mammals.
  • They express emotions such as excitement and distress by bobbing their heads (adorably, I’m sure).
  • Alarmed chicks, on the other hand, make a hissing noise that resembles the sound of a rattlesnake.
  • Lazy opportunists, burrowing owls are quite happy to nest in burrows that were previously dug and abandoned by prairie dogs, skunks, or other burrow-digging creatures.
  • Their nests are often furnished with mammal dung, which attracts delicious dung beetles for the owls to prey upon.

Why are they threatened?

Although listed as a Least Concern species by the IUCN, burrowing owls are considered endangered in Canada. These little guys have had to deal with a laundry list of troubles, including habitat loss, decreased prey, pesticides, migratory problems, and vehicle collisions. These threats have caused their populations to dip in prairie provinces and disappear entirely in Manitoba and BC.

Thankfully, recovery programs across Canada continue to boost burrowing owl numbers. To show that you give a hoot about the burrowing owl, support conservation efforts in your province, such as the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC or the Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre. You can also check out our article, “Going, Going, Gone,” for tips on how we can help protect Canada’s bird species at risk.

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