By Berrucomons (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThis week I read some good news in Wildlife Preservation Canada's blog. All of the sites in British Columbia (BC), where the burrowing owl recovery team is working, announced that 50 owls returned from their migration to the South Okanagan, Nicola Valley and Lac du Bois areas.
In 1980, the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) in BC was listed as extirpated. A fate that Canada's spotted owl almost faced in 2012. Extirpation means that a species is no longer found naturally occurring in a geographic area (though it can still exist elsewhere).
Since the early '80s, the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC has been working tirelessly to re-establish their populations. There was plenty of trial and error and years met with low numbers of returning owls.
However, after adopting radical and innovative methods, this program now boasts the first and longest sustained program of its kind in North America.
And the fact that only 68 yearlings were released this year yet 50 owls returning from migration is a phenomenal success rate.
Up next is a video by WildLensInc about this incredible team of biologists and volunteers that are working to bring back the burrowing owl to BC. An important sponsor, the Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, is providing a lifeline to help fund their efforts.
Digging for Owls: Reintroducing the Burrowing Owl to BC
Published on August 27th, 2014 by WildLensInc
What Threatens the Survival of the Burrowing Owl?
Gerritse at nl.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia CommonsHabitat loss and fragmentation is the main reason that burrowing owls are endangered in Canada. The loss of open grassland areas to agriculture and development has made it more difficult for burrowing owls to find homes.
Burrowing owls rely on other species such as badgers, foxes, gophers, and prairie dogs to dig their burrows. Anything negatively impacting these species (e.g. disease) will also result in fewer of these precious owls.
The loss of prairie dogs (especially in the US) has also meant a loss of homes for the burrowing owl. And sadly, the use of a strong insecticide (Carbofuran) has resulted in fewer owlets surviving an already high mortality rate. Pesticides used to kill rodents have also had a detrimental effect on owls that feed on poisoned carcasses.
As you may have guessed, the burrowing owl is fairly small (between 7.5 and 11 inches long). They are slightly smaller than a pigeon which makes them prey for larger owls, hawks (especially red-tailed hawks), badgers, coyotes, foxes, skunks, snakes, and weasels. Domestic dogs and cats have been known to hunt them too.
Other alarming but serious threats are motor vehicle accidents and the flooding of their burrows caused by heavy rainstorms.
Next is wonderful footage of baby burrowing owls on the Canadian prairie by NatGeoWild.
Baby burrowing owls are rather comical-looking, I think. They bob up and down and sometimes turn their heads sideways. They consume huge amounts of grasshoppers, beetles and crickets. They also eat small birds, frogs, mice, moles, the remains of dead animals, toads, and even small lizards.
Baby Owl’s Day Out | Kingdom of the North
Published on April 4th, 2015 by NatGeoWild
Fascinating Facts About Burrowing Owls
When threatened, burrowing owls will retreat into their underground nests and produce a hissing and rattling sound – similar to a rattlesnake. Known as an example of Batesian mimicry, this strategy appears to scare off predators familiar with the dangers that rattlesnakes pose.
Russell Neches (rneches on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericThe male burrowing owl prepares the burrow by digging it out a bit and lining it with dried plants, feathers, and cow dung. The cow dung attracts the beetles that these owls feed on. It also masks their scent (and those of owlets) which protects them from some predators.
Burrowing owls are also known as "howdy owls" because of their tendency to bob up and down and bow as if to greet you in a friendly manner. In some publications, they have been referred to as ground owls, gopher owls, and tunnel owls.
They will usually nest in the same burrow year-after-year. But I was surprised to learn that they will utilize more than one burrow to raise their young.
Burrowing owls are most active at night but fairly active in the day as well (unlike most owl species). When the nest gets crowded, the older owlets will stand at the entrance of the burrow.
How to Help Burrowing Owls
By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stephanie Tigner [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsBurrowing owls are an important part of our ecosystem and they protect crops by eating the insects and pests that destroy our food supply.
If you see a burrowing owl nest site, report it to authorities who can take action to ensure that the area remains protected.
Educate and encourage landowners and farmers to not disturb the areas where burrowing owls live and to use safe alternatives to pesticides and insecticides.
Lastly, pet owners should keep their cats indoors and encourage others to do so. It's safer for the cats and for wildlife.