Owl Description (Morphology)
Burrowing Owls are a small (125-190g) brown and cream coloured owl, with noticeable barring on their chest, 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 (non-sexually dimorphic species). During the breeding season, males and females can be differentiated generally by behaviour and in some cases, males feathers appear to be lighter (sun-bleached) as they guard their nesting burrow and forage for themselves and the female as she solely incubates eggs for 25-30 days. Young Burrowing Owls lack brown barring on the chest. This barring appears in the first year. Burrowing Owls reach breeding maturity once they are one-years old.
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 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.
Sounds and Calls
Though Burrowing Owls can be very vocal and make a variety of sounds like cooing, rasping, clucking, screaming, and rattling, the species is not especially vocal. The most common sound is a two-note cooing made by the male when defending his territory and breeding season. Young owls utter eep calls and rasping sounds and scare away predators from the nest with a prolonged rattlesnake warning.
Male Primary Song
Juvenile Alarm Chatter
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.