Nesting burrowing owls – eggs-cellent news!
Posted onJune 8, 2022by|, ,
Migratory birds are arriving back to the breeding grounds in Canada and many grassland birds have arrived in southwestern Manitoba’s mixed-grass prairie region. There are several grassland bird specialities in this part of the province. The iconic burrowing owl tops the list for many birders who flock to the southwest corner to get a glimpse of one. Burrowing owls are charismatic little owls weighting only about 150g. Both males and female owls are a similar size and are a speckled brown colour that is perfect for camouflage. They are the only North American species of owl that nests in the ground.
As their name suggests, their unique characteristic is that they nest in burrows in the ground. Contrary to their name, they cannot actually dig their own burrows and rely on burrowing mammals such as ground squirrels, badgers and foxes to dig burrows in grasslands – i.e. pasturelands in souythwestern Manitoba. The Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program works with landowners to install artificial nest burrows in suitable nesting locations, made of plastic weeping tile and a bucket to protect owl families from digging predators.
These are the types of burrows that we use to reintroduce conservation-bred pairs. These burrows are covered with a large, soft-release enclosure to ensure the owls are protected and are able to get acclimated to the wild environment before release.
A release enclosure on the Manitoba prairie. Photo: Jessica Riach
Once pairs have an established nest, the enclosure is removed and they are able to hunt for food on their own, and avoid predators.
The Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program has six pairs of conservation-release owls set up in enclosures on private land in southwestern Manitoba. A few have started to nest which is egg-cellent news!
The burrowing owl is one of the smallest owl species, distinguished by its very long legs and short tail. It gets its name from its habit of nesting in burrows dug by animals such as ground squirrels, badgers and prairie dogs. Burrowing owls are also known as “Howdy Owls” because of their habit of bobbing up and down in a bowing motion, a behaviour that likely allows them to determine distance from multiple viewpoints. Young owls in the nest make a rattling sound similar to rattlesnakes to ward off predators. They are nocturnal, although unlike other owls, they are also active to a certain extent during the day. Burrowing owls feed on rodents, large insects (such as crickets, beetles and grasshoppers), and small reptiles and amphibians.
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