Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Keep an eye out for Burrowing Owls

In your travels on the Saskatchewan prairie this summer you may come across a burrowing owl. If you do and the landowner has not already reported it to Operation Burrowing Owl (OBO), please be sure to call in to the HOOT line (1-800-667-HOOT (4668))and let them know where you saw it.

Here are two images that show the difference between a Burrowing Owl and the more common Short-eared Owl that will also be seen perching on fence posts or on the ground.

Here is a burrowing owl (note long legs, barring on breast)

(image courtesy of Alan MacKeigan)

and here is a Short-eared Owl (note distinctive face pattern and streaking rather than barring on breast; legs short)

If you are a landowner or know a landowner with owls who is not currently participating in OBO programs, please at least have a look at the Nature Sask web page on OBO to see what the program entails.

People can be reluctant to report endangered species on their property for fear that the government will somehow take control over how they use the land, but any farmer or rancher registered in OBO will assure you that nothing like that happens.

We are down to a few hundred pairs of these wonderful creatures in Saskatchewan and despite some recent signes of hope they are believed to still be in long term decline.

I was in Kamloops, British Columbia last weekend where I spoke to conservationists about grassland and grassland birds at the 10th anniversary of the Grasslands Conservation Council of B.C. British Columbia gave up its last wild burrowing owls a few years back, but they have instituted a re-introduction program that is now getting some good results. My host Bob Moody, Executive Director of the Grassland Conservation Council took me out to see a local pasture where conservationists have built artificial burrows and placed captive-bred owls. Some of these birds have migrated back to their nesting grounds on their own so there is a lot of hope that the program will over time develop some viable colonies of burrowing owls.

I met some of the folks involved in this work. They belong to the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C., another amazing British Columbia group full of energetic people making somer real progress on behalf of grassland ecosystems. Take a look at their website, for my money one of the best I have seen by an ENGO in a while.

I am going to close this posting with a series of images from their web site:

owls just outside the burrow

a field crew making burrows

young captive-bred owls ready for release

installing a new artificial burrow

captive-bred owl just outside one of the artificial burrows


  1. I had one of these owls as a kid in the70's and was sad to find out they are in trouble as a species. They are a wonderful bird and we should do whatever it takes to ensure the survival of them. My daughter has developed alove for these little owls as well and it would be tragic if her kids never have the opportunity to see them in the wild as we have so many times.

  2. Out of pure curiosity-
    The picture of the young burrowing owls in the hands of the field crew members has been making some prolific rounds on the internet lately. Did you take the original photo, or did you find it somewhere online?

  3. Hi Dani--those images were sent to me by the folks at the Burrowing Owl COnservation Society of B.C.


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