Burrow full of freshly hatched chicks. Photo: Jessica Riach

With fewer than 1,000 pairs in the wild, the burrowing owl is one of the most endangered birds found in Canada’s prairie grasslands. Wildlife Preservation Canada has supported burrowing owl recovery programs since 1995, when we worked with partners to establish a conservation breeding colony in Saskatchewan. Since then, we have supported partners in BC and now, Jessica Riach reports from the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program.

Twenty-eight days ago we had tiny eggs in several burrows and now we have tiny burrowing owls!

Burrowing owls can lay eight to twelve small white eggs. These eggs are comparable in size to a ping-pong ball. The pairs in the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program (MBORP) started laying at the end of May. Eggs are produced every 24 to 36 hours and the female will begin to incubate them after the third or fourth eggs has been laid. Eggs continue to be produced and after the start of incubation, this results in asynchronous hatching. The first three or four young chicks hatch together, then every day or so a new one will hatch in the order they were laid.

Newly hatched chick. Photo: Jessica Riach

These tiny little owls emerge from their eggs weighing around 8g covered in white fluff and have their eyes closed. They quickly begin to grow and by ten days old their eyes open. They also begin to grow feathers and slowly explore the world outside of their burrow.

Ten-day-old young in their burrow. Photo: Jessica Riach

This awkward looking stage doesn’t last long and very soon they are learning how to fly with their new feathers. “Fledging” is the term of learning to fly and by five to six weeks of age burrowing owl young are fully fledged and are independent from their parents. At this point in time they need to be able to find their own food and start moving to nearby burrows or “satellite” burrows. A full grown burrowing owl weighs in at approximately 150g. Young are easily distinguishable from adults at this stage as they lack spots and barring on their chest. Those stripes and spots start coming in over the fall and winter within their first year.

Two five-week-old young (left and in front) and two adults. Photo: Jessica Riach

Over the next couple weeks we will continue to monitor the nests and excitedly watch the young continue to grow! We will plan to band and blood sex them at the end of July, more on that in our next post. Stay tuned!

Jessica Riach

Field Technician – Burrowing Owl Recovery

Jessica achieved a Bachelor of Science degree at Brandon University before pursuing an education to become a Registered Veterinary Technologist. She has a keen interest in animals of all sorts but her seven years working with the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program has created a special place in her heart for these unique birds.

Photo: Alexandra Froese