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Description

The burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia hypugea) is a small ground dwelling owl with long legs.

They have a round head, no ear tufts, white eyebrows and bright yellow eyes.

They have a prominent white chin stripe.

They are sandy coloured on the head, back and upper parts of the wings, with a brown and white mottling on the breast and belly.

There is little colour difference (or sexual dimorphism) between males and females.

Unlike most birds of prey, the females tend to be slightly smaller. In breeding season, the females are also darker, possibly due to extended nesting periods in the burrow .

Juveniles are brown on the head, back and wings, with cream white belly and chest. They moult into their adult plumage during their first summer.

Juveniles are brown on the head, back and wings, with cream white belly and chest. They moult into their adult plumage during their first summer.

Vital Statistics:

Length:

  • 21 - 28 cm (8.5 - 11 inches)

Wingspan:

  • 51 - 61 cm (20 - 24 inches)

Weight:

  • 160 - 240 g (0.429 - 0.643 lb)

    Vocalization

    Burrowing Owls make a wide range of calls. The main call is a soft "who who" sound usually given at the burrow entrance. Males use this main call for attracting females to the burrow. The sound is also associated with breeding and identifiying the territory of a pair.

  • Typical male call
  • Courtship call
  • Alarmed/ defensive call
  • Over 17 calls have been identified, including "rasp," "chuck," and "chatter." They also have unique alarm calls. Adults will emit a piercing scream but juveniles give a rattlesnake like "buzz" when threatened in the burrow.

    Habits

    Unlike most birds of prey, Burrowing Owls spend a great deal of time on, or near, the ground. They make their home below ground, usually seeking out burrows abandoned by badgers or marmots. In the western US they are also found in colonial groupings near prairie dog colonies. In BC we have found them in abandoned badger and marmot burrows. The owls are resourceful and have also been found living in abandoned pipe, in depressions under buildings and other subterranean excavations that serve the purpose. The BC Burrowing owl program is largely about providing nesting and roosting opportunities for the owls.

    Burrowing owls are usually active at dawn or dusk. As ground nesters they are often spotted sitting on rocks, mounds of earth or fence posts. They will often stand motionless on one foot, but, when excited will bob up and down. Their cryptic colouration allows them to blend into the earth tones of their native grasslands, which often makes them difficult to spot at first.

    Burrowing Owls often nest in loose colonies. Several nesting pairs may establish in relatively close proximity, perhaps due to abundant food or multiple burrow sites. Another advantage of this living strategy is that the birds serve as a warning system for the other owls concerning incoming predators.

    Breeding

    A Burrowing owl can breed the summer after it hatches and every summer thereafter, the nesting season beginning in late March or April. They are usually monogamous but occasionally a male with have two mates. Courtship displays include flashing white markings, cooing, bowing, scratching, and nipping. The male performs display flights, rising quickly to 30 metres (100 feet), hovering for 5-10 seconds, then dropping 15 metres (50 feet). This sequence is repeated many times. Circling flights can also occur.

    Burrowing owls nest underground in abandoned burrows dug by mammals or if soil conditions allow they will dig their own burrows. They will also use man-made nest boxes placed underground. They often line their nest with an assortment of dry materials. Adults usually return to the same burrow or a nearby area each year.

    One or more "satellite" burrows can usually be found near the nest burrow, and are used by adult males during the nesting period and by juvenile owls for a few weeks after they emerge from the nest.

    The female will lay a day apart six to twelve (average nine) ping pong ball-sized white eggs. The eggs are incubated by the female for 21 - 30 days. The male hunts throughout this time and supplies the female with food, standing guard near the burrow by day. Newly hatched chicks are totally dependent on their parents for warmth and food for a couple of weeks after hatching, the care of the young while still in the nest performed by the male. At two weeks, the young may be seen roosting at the entrance to the burrow, waiting for the adults to return with food. At three weeks, the young birds begin to emerge from the burrow and explore. At four or five weeks of age, some of the brood may even move to a neighboring burrow. The young birds begin to fly about a month after hatching and are independent from their parents by the time the birds begin to migrate south in mid-September. They leave the nest at about 44 days and begin chasing live insects when 49-56 days old.

    Here in Canada, the burrowing owl has only enough time to raise a single brood. The number of chicks raised to fledging varies greatly from year to year depending on food, predators, weather and other factors that our biologists are working at figuring out.

    Burrowing owls that breed in Canada remain on the breeding grounds from April to September. At that time, the prairie owls migrate 2500 to 3500 km to south Texas and central Mexico, arriving in November. Most British Columbia owls migrate to the west coast from Washington to California; a few spend winter at the inland release sites near Kamloops. In the south, burrowing owls live in agricultural fields, as well as in more open, grassland country, orchards, and even thorn shrub woodlands. They often hide in burrows, culverts, or open pipes in the daytime, but sometimes they just sit under grass clumps. The owls that journey to summer breeding grounds in Canada begin their migration in late February and early March.

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Burrowing Owls make a wide range of calls.

The main call is a soft "who who" sound usually given at the burrow entrance. Males use this main call for attracting females to the burrow.

The sound is also associated with breeding and identifiying the territory of a pair.

  1. Male call
  2. Courtship call
  3. Alarm/defense call

Over seventeen calls have been identified, including "rasp," "chuck," and "chatter."

They also have unique alarm calls. Adults will emit a piercing scream but juveniles give a rattlesnake like "buzz" when threatened in the burrow.

At the burrow entrance, the adult male will warn off intruders with series of chucking sounds, accompanied by head bobbing.

Other defensive posturing includes dropping the head and body, spreading the wings up and out, while making a hissing sound.

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Did you know?

Burrowing owls live on the ground not in trees.

They do not dig their own burrows but rely on abandoned burrows from badgers, groundsquirrels and marmots?

Unlike larger owls that hunt only at night, burrowing owls are active both day and night.

Male burrowing owls decorate the front entrance of their burrow with objects to impress the female. This might include pretty stones, dried flowers, a dead frog, even coyote poo.

 

 

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THE NEW RECOVERY IMPLEMENTATION PLAN

The BC Recovery Goal is to establish viable populations of at least ten pairs at four separate locations.

The recovery approach for Burrowing Owls in British Columbia focuses on the production of young owls from a captive breeding stock and their release as yearlings into suitable habitat where artificial burrows have been installed.

The success of the program requires three coordinated efforts:

  • captive breeding programs
  • releases and associated activities including research and monitoring
  • stewardship/education.

Identify important habitat features for nesting and foraging for owls

Work with landowners concerning the habitat trends that may influence or affect Burrowing Owls

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She did it for love: Rare wild owl tries burrowing into Manitoba enclosure to find mate

Researcher says fewer than 5 pairs of burrowing owls left in wild; Manitoba population nearing extirpation

CBC News · Posted: Jun 06, 2018

With files from Janice Grant and Aidan Geary

A small, tenacious owl discovered trying to worm its way into a captive male's enclosure last weekend has found a love connection researchers hope will result in much-needed burrowing owl chicks.

A field assistant with the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program was doing a regular check on the program's five captive mating pairs on Sunday when she spotted the wild little owl, apparently doggedly interested in getting inside one of the pens.

"She was trying to push through [chicken wire] with her head, which she wasn't able to do, and then she was digging at the outside of the pen as well. She was using her talons to sort of dig underneath — it wasn't doing too much," said Alex Froese, the program director.

"She was very, very eager and very interested in getting into this pen."

Read the full story here

About BOCS BC

We are a non-profit society concerned about the conservation of species and habitats in BC.

Articles

24 October 2017
02 February 2015
02 February 2015