The Burrowing Owl is the sweetest little owl that pops its head out of the ground from its burrow. They used to number in the hundreds. Sadly, its numbers have declined to where in 2012 there were under ten pairs of these little birds in Manitoba.  In the early-1980's there were over 100 pairs living in our province, most of them here in the southwest.

Alex Froese is the Executive Director of the Burrowing Owl Recovery Program.  She says there are a number of factors that have contributed to the decline in numbers, including the changes to the prairie landscape.

"Loss of habitat would be the greatest challenge for them," shares Froese. "They need grasslands so converting grasslands to any other type of land use depletes their habitat, including housing development, it's road building, it's energy exploration, it's crops, things like that.  Food security is also a factor when conditions are very wet."

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.

They are also a migratory species, and so they see challenges during their travels from north to south.  They breed here in Canada but then make their way down to Mexico for their winter homes, so they see vehicle collisions and natural predators.  However, as the landscape changes, natural predators have greater access to them.

Burrowing Owls are conservation dependent, meaning they rely on human measures to protect them.  Money raised through private donation or grant money helps to share the message of the recovery program, but also to install artificial nest burrows. These artificial nests help protect them from these natural predators and provide a more stable home to raise their young.

"In all of our education programs when we're talking about this to cattle farmers and landowners it's the importance of the grasslands and biodiversity," explains Froese. "We get a lot of questions like, 'What happens if we lose the Burrowing Owls?'  The short answer is we don't know what would happen but every species, no matter how small, it plays an important role in the ecosystem and losing one can create negative effects on the whole system, as a negative ripple effect."

"So, it's really important to take care of species that are conservation dependent," she adds. "We need people out there caring for them and being a champion for them.  I feel like that's what our project is trying to do. We want to make sure Burrowing Owls stay here and that increases biodiversity which is important to our entire ecosystem and our environment."

Froese is quick to point out that these challenges are not only Burrowing Owl specific, as all grassland bird species are seeing declines in the last 50 years.

Please listen to more with Alex Froese below as she shares more on the Burrowing Owl, as well as the Feruginous Hawk.

Here is more on the Burrowing Owl, compliments of the Burrowing Owl Recovery Program website:

Did you know?

  • Burrowing Owls are the only North American 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.

For more on the Burrowing Owl Recovery Program visit their website HERE!