Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC

All about Burrowing Owls

Breeding

New burrows - Ideal real estate.

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.

14 Days old - Out for burrow cleaning.

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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