Just For Kids
Why are they called “burrowing” owls?
Burrowing owls get their name from the way they live: they make their homes in underground burrows. In Saskatchewan, the ground is too hard for the owls to dig the burrows themselves, so they rely on ground squirrels (gophers), badgers, or prairie dogs to dig the burrows for them. Once the original occupants are gone, the burrowing owls will move into the burrow and call it home!
Their habit of nesting underground earned them their Latin scientific name: Athene cunicularia — loosely translated, it means “wise miner”.
What do they eat?
Burrowing owls are generalist hunters, which means they’ll eat just about anything they can catch! In the northern limits of their range (here in Saskatchewan), they mainly eat small mammals (things like mice and voles), and grasshoppers (and other insects). But they have been known to eat everything from birds to snakes, from salamanders to frogs.
How long do they live?
Burrowing owls are not a long-lived species; in the wild, most burrowing owls will live only 3-4 years. (There are always exceptions; there is a record of a 9-year-old burrowing owl in Florida!).
In captive situations, the owls usually live longer because they don’t have to worry about predators eating them, or cars and trucks running them over, and they’re always very well fed! So captive owls can live as long as 8-10 years.
How big are burrowing owls?
Burrowing owls are one of the smaller species of owls — they stand only about 23 cm (9 inches) tall, and weigh only about 150 grams (that’s about as much as a half full can of pop). It’s useful to be that size so they can fit nicely through the tunnels of the badger and gopher burrows they live in.
Can they turn their head all the way around?
No, owls can’t turn their heads all the way around, although they can look much farther over their shoulders than we can.
That’s because the owls’ eyes are fixed in place in their skull — they can’t move their eyes up and down and from side to side like people can. So instead, they have to be able to move their heads farther to the left and right in order to see what’s happening around them. Owls can turn their heads around an amazing 270 degrees!
If you think of a clock face, it’s like the owls can turn their heads from the 1 to the 6, and all the way to the 11, but they can’t turn their heads through 12.
How do burrowing owls stay warm in the winter?
Do they hibernate? Do they wear parkas and toques? NO… they migrate . Just recently (the winter of 2001), biologists found “Canadian” burrowing owls wintering in southern Texas and northern Mexico — almost 3,400 km away! This was an important discovery because it confirmed something we were never sure of before — where do “our” Canadian owls spend nearly half of their lives (when they’re not here during the summer).
Do burrowing owls only live in Canada?
Nope. Burrowing owls are actually at the northern extent of their range in North America here in Canada. They can be found throughout the western and central United States and even down through Central and South America. Wherever there is suitable habitat for them and a burrow to live in.
What is slimy and round and is thrown up by an owl after a meal?
When burrowing owls eats a small mammal or insect they eat the WHOLE thing… from the eyes to the tail. Like us, burrowing owls cannot digest bones, fur or the exoskeleton of bugs. After the owl has swallowed chunks of it’s prey all of the digestible material (muscle, organs, blood) go into the stomach and the bones, fur, and exoskeletons are coughed up in an owl pellet. What makes them slimy? Mucus. When the owl first swallows the chunks of food the bones are surrounded by muscle and fat. To stop the bones from poking the throat of the burrowing owl when the pellet is being coughed up the pellet is enveloped in a mucous coating.
When do owls sleep?
They don’t really sleep like you and me… they NAP! Little cat-naps all day and night! Burrowing owls hunt during the day and the night, and they also need to be on the alert for any potential predators coming in to make a meal out of them, so they can’t afford to get a full 8 hours sleep like the rest of us.
What’s “habitat fragmentation”?
An animals’ habitat is like it’s home — it’s the place where the animal lives that includes all the trees, grass, water, and even the dirt. All these things are important to the animal, and when that habitat is fragmented, it means that it is chopped up into pieces — it’s no longer whole. For the burrowing owls, their habitat is prairie grassland. The prairie grasslands of Saskatchewan have been fragmented by cities, roads, buildings, and agriculture (farmer’s fields) so that only tiny fragments or pieces of their prairie grassland home are left.
Can I have a burrowing owl for a pet?
Burrowing owls are wild animals — not pets. We are able to have burrowing owls at the Interpretive Centre by the permission of the provincial government. If you do not have permission, it would be illegal to have a burrowing owl. If you find an injured animal it is best to report it to your local conservation officer or bring it to your veterinarian for treatment.
Why are burrowing owls called an “endangered species”?
When a plant or animal is classified as an endangered species, it means that their populations have reached such low numbers that unless something happens to reverse the trend, that species will likely disappear forever (in other words, it will become extinct).
Burrowing owls were classified as an endangered species in Canada 1995. Even though many people and organizations are working hard to help the burrowing owl and trying to find out what the problem is, their populations have continued to decline. Unless something happens to reverse their population decline, it is possible that within our lifetimes burrowing owls will no longer be found in Canada.