A Burrowing What?
The Burrowing Owl was once a common summer resident of the Canadian prairies. Since 1987, the Burrowing Owl population has declined over 96%. It's estimated that between 500 and 800 owl pairs currently breed in Canada. In Manitoba, the population has declined from over 100 pairs in the early 1980s to under 10 in 2012.
The owl's decline has been attributed to changes in the prairie landscape. Over 75% of our native grassland has been cultivated and 40% of our wetlands have been lost. The remaining grassland areas in Manitoba and Canada are often heavily fragmented which has reduced available suitable habitat for Burrowing Owls to nest.
Did you know?
- Burrowing Owls are the only owl that nests in the ground.
- Burrowing Owls are unable to dig their own burrows and rely on digging animals like badgers, foxes, ground squirrels and pocket gophers to do so for them. They are unable to nest without a burrow.
- A one-day-old Burrowing Owl weighs 8-9 grams. Within 5 weeks their weight increases 16-17 times that to 150g-170g. Young fledge and are independent from their parents at 6 weeks of age.
- A single Burrowing Owl family can eat 1,800 rodents and 7,000 insects during a summer! They also eat things like frogs, small birds and salamanders.
- Males make a "Coo-Coo" call to attract a mate in the early breeding season and also to other males when protecting their territory.
- Burrowing Owls hunt both day and night (Diurnal hunter).
- A Burrowing Owl nest can have up to a dozen eggs!
- Burrowing Owls migrate from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico every fall.
Burrowing Owls are a small (125-190g) brownish coloured owl, with bright yellow eyes, a short tail, rounded head, lacking ear tufts and noticeably long legs. Adult males and females are almost identical in appearance & size except during the breeding season when males feathers become sun-bleached and appear lighter than the females. This occurs as the male guards the burrow and forages for himself and the female during the incubation period (25-30 days). Young of the year lack the brown barring on the chest. This barring comes in once the young reach breeding maturity which they reach after they are year old.Habitat
The Western Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) breeds in southern Canada (all western provinces) and throughout the U.S. to Mexico. The Burrowing Owl nests in abandoned burrows that are excavated by digging mammals. They cannot dig their own burrows and cannot nest without a burrow so they rely on digging animals to dig burrows for them. In Manitoba, the owls are mostly found in grassland and agricultural habitats.Breeding
Breeding begins late April-May in Manitoba. Males generally return first and select a burrow for nesting. Males have a "Coo-Coo" call which they use to attract a female to the area and their burrow. Females can lay up to a dozen eggs and she is the sole incubator. The eggs hatch asynchronously (they do not hatch all at once). If food sources are good during the season, most young will emerge from the burrow approximately 2 weeks after hatching. Burrowing Owls live approximately 1-8 years in wild.Status in Canada
The Burrowing Owl is federally listed as Endangered throughout Canada (Species at Risk Act and COSEWIC). It is also provincially listed as Endangered in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba (Manitoba Endangered Species Act). The Canadian population has declined substantially from 3000 pairs in 1978 to 400 pairs in 2004 (that is a 75% decline!). In Manitoba, the population has declined from 76 pairs in 1982 to 4 pairs in 1996. From 2000-2005, the species was essentially extirpated from the province with 0 reports and observations of pairs or individuals.
Please follow the link to Manitoba's Species At Risk Burrowing Owl Fact Sheet by clicking here .
Housing, farming, roads, and energy exploration have fragmented what once was vast areas of grassland prairie. These activities have eliminated some of the owls primary living space.Loss of Burrows
Digging mammals like ground squirrels, prairie dogs and badgers are often seen as pests and are eradicated (by poisons). A reduction in these types of animals reduces the amount of available burrows for the owls for nesting.Vehicle Collisions
If you've ever been lucky enough to see a Burrowing Owl in the wild in Manitoba you may have seen it hanging out on a fence post near a ditch or road side. They definitely enjoy perching on fence posts, hunting in ditches near road sides and even on the road and this leads to a higher frequency of owls being hit by vehicles.Prey Shortages
In cool or wet seasons, prey shortages do occur and play a major role in productivity and survival of the young.
The use of pesticides can affect the owls directly and indirectly. Directly, the owls eat a lot of insects like grasshoppers, beetles, and crickets. Pesticides are used to kill off insects which leads to their being less available for the owls to eat. Indirectly, should an owl eat pesticide contaminated insects, the poison will bioaccumulate in the owls system and may ultimately cause death.Predation
Burrowing owls have a variety of natural predators including badgers, foxes, and numerous avian species including larger owls and hawks.Migration
Winter mortality is extremely difficult to measure in long-distant migrants that do not show a high fidelity to their nest site. Little is known about the migration path of Burrowing Owls from Manitoba to the Gulf of Mexico at present however high mortality is suspected for young in the first year.Knowledge Gaps
There are several important knowledge gaps that still exist for the Burrowing Owl in Canada. The largest knowledge gap is linked to migration. Burrowing Owls migrate from Canada through the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico. All owls are banded with alpha numeric, colour coded bands which are province specific. This allows for biologist and birders alike to identify owls along migration. Data on survival rates for both adults and juveniles during migration does not exist and migratory routes used and winter range for Canadian owls is limited. Observations of Alberta owls in both Texas and the Bahamas have been confirmed by Canadian wildlife biologists.
Presently, small (under 4 grams) GPS satellite trackers do not exist and until that time migration path and stop over points for Burrowing Owls during migration are hard to place. An increase in collaboration between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico conservation programs are needed to better understand challenges the owls face during the winter season.
Enhancing or restoring a species back to its historical population in an area.Recovery Goals and Objective from the Species At Risk Act for Canada
This information has been taken directly from the Recovery Strategy for the Burrowing Owl in Canada 2012.
The long-term (>30 years) recovery goal for the Burrowing Owl is to reverse the population decline in Canada and maintain a self-perpetuating, well-distributed population of at least 3000 breeding pairs within the four western provinces. These pairs should encompass the 1993 distribution of Burrowing Owls in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, with at least 30 wild pairs distributed within their historical range in the Thompson/Nicola and Okanagan regions of British Columbia. The 1995 National Recovery Plan had the equivalent long-term population recovery goal. All of these long-term goals should be met for the Burrowing Owl to be considered as recovered.
The short-term (i.e., 5-year) population and distribution objective for this Recovery Strategy is to achieve the 2004 estimated population size (800 pairs) and distribution.Recovery Objectives
- Develop an improved understanding of environmental and demographic factors associated with annual changes in Burrowing Owl population size.
- Identify and implement protocols that mitigate factors contributing to population declines.
- Identify, maintain, enhance, and increase breeding and foraging habitat.
- Optimize nesting success, fledging rate, and survival on the Canadian breeding grounds.
- Re-establish wild breeding populations of Burrowing Owls within their historical range in British Columbia and their 1993 range in Manitoba.
- Encourage management, conservation, and research of Burrowing Owls and the habitats they use, during each season, in the United States and Mexico.
- Engage, support, and communicate with land holders and land managers about actions that may improve Burrowing Owl populations and habitats in their local areas.
If you would like to read more about the Recovery Strategy for the Burrowing Owl in Canada click here.Our Program Goals
- To stimulate and increase MB Burrowing Owl populations through reintroductions.
- To collect and compare data from both wild & captive release owls on:
- Productivity relating to clutch size
- Hatching success
- Recruitment rate (Young of the year survival)
- Foraging of males during post hatch
- Home range size
- Diet/Prey use
- Return rates/survival
- Other behaviours
- Increase public awareness about the Burrowing Owl and other grassland species at risk including ways to get involved locally with grassland conservation.
Reintroductions in ManitobaWhat is a Re-introduction?
Re-introducing species to places where they formally occurred.
What are we doing?
Our program was formed to address limiting factors and the overall recovery of the species in MB. How is our Manitoba program different from any other?
- Only releasing successful breeders By releasing only successful breeders we hope to increase nest-site philopatry (the tendency of an adult to return to same area to breed), this is known to increase with age and breeding success and in turn, would increase the returning population in future breeding seasons.
- Holding back some young (wild and captive broods)
By holding back some young from both wild and captive groups (Brood Reduction) we promote the survival of remaining young left in the brood (less competition for food so they can build up for migration). Juvenile mortality along migration is a huge concern for young in their very first migration. By removing some young from their first migration allows for ensures their survival overwinter and a genetically diverse flock for breeding the following breeding season. The overwintered owls are held at the Assiniboine Park Zoo and will be paired/released in the following season.
- Release after clutch >3 eggs: Releasing pairs after nest establishment encourages pair bonding, reduces nest abandonment and overall pairs produce, hatch and fledge more young.
- Daily personal observations and cameras to monitor 24 hours: We monitored all the owls activities and events at the burrow entrance with Reconyx wildlife 24h hours a day.
Donations can be made through the Assiniboine Park Zoo website by clicking here or by cheque through Turtle Mountain Conservation District (TMCD)
129 Broadway Street North
Deloraine, Manitoba R0M 0M0
Please be sure to include on your donation form or cheque that you would like your gift to go towards the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program. Charitable donation receipts are available for donations of $25 or more. Please be sure to indicate that you would like a receipt on your donation form.Report Burrowing Owl sightings
If you think you have spotted a Burrowing Owl, please contact us directly or your local conservation district office.Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program
(204) 807-HOOT (4668)
Turtle Mountain Conservation District (204) 747-2530
West Souris Conservation District (204) 877-3020
Assiniboine Hills Conservation District 1-877-535-2139
How can you get involved?
We are always looking for help annually to help dig burrows to install artificial nest burrows (spring and fall), put up our release pens (spring) and help with surveys to locate wild owls in southwest Manitoba. If you are interested in being a volunteer please contact MBORP for more information! Be sure to follow the Burrowing Owls in Manitoba by subscribing to our Blog, Facebook and Twitter
Want to meet a live Burrowing Owl?
Book a presentation at your school or home with "Naira", the education ambassador Burrowing Owl, with Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. Please click here to link to their website.
Want to learn more about Burrowing Owls?Head to either Assiniboine Park Zoo and Fort Whyte Alive to see pairs of live captive Burrowing Owls, up close and personal, in their interactive educational exhibits. Please follow the links below for more information.
Program Manager: Alexandra Froese
(204) 807-4668 (HOOT)
MBORP works in cooperation with Assiniboine Park Zoo, Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship, Turtle Mountain Conservation District and Portage Natural History Group.
Assiniboine Park Zoo
2595 Roblin Boulevard
Winnipeg, MB R3P 2N7
Conservation & Research
Phone: (204) 927-6090
129 Broadway Street North,Box 508
Deloraine, MB R0M 0M0
Phone: (204) 747-2530
Fax: (204) 747-2956