After all, owls nested in trees and behaved like other owls.
Not quite. On our cross Canada drive, after entering Saskatchewan, we sought out these little feathered friends at a poorly located interpretive centre in Moose Jaw. We had to double back because we missed the small sign announcing its location amidst a barrage of other large markers.
These little creatures are cute. The burrowing owl:
-nests underground instead of trees
-is smaller in size than pigeons
-has long stick-like legs
-hunts as much in the day as at night in summer
-mimics the rattling hiss of a rattlesnake’s tail (to scare predators)
-is one of the most endangered birds in western Canada
So what happens in winter? We know Canadian western winters can be mighty frigid and foreboding...especially to little creatures living underground! Well, around September, the little owl begins to migrate to the milder west coast, or head across the border (like people snowbirds) to south Texas and central Mexico---a distance of 2500 – 3500 km!
Many burrowing owls that breed in Canada do not return. Only half of the adults come back to their northern breeding grounds. Photo is of the owl babies - generally mothers lay 12 eggs but usually only 5 hatch.
There is so much more to learn about these fascinating little feather friends. They are interesting because they are different. To me, the burning question is why are they endangered? At one time the Burrowing Owl was common in the four western Canadian provinces. Their numbers are now vastly reduced because of you and me. Current estimates say fewer than 1000 pairs now locate in Canada.
With our chemical pesticides we have poisoned some, killed by eating strychnine-covered grains. These very same pesticides also kill small rodents on which the Burrowing Owl feeds. Human interaction often proves fatal, too, through vehicle and farm equipment collisions. Believe it, the little creatures are even recorded as victims of aircraft collisions! Most often, though, the owl’s decline is the result of changes in the prairie landscape. Over 75% of our native grassland has been cultivated; 40% of our wetlands lost.
If you are interested in learning more, please contact:
Operation Burrowing Owl, 1-800-667- HOOT (4668)
Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre, Moose Jaw, SK
After all, if we don’t care, then whoooo will?
Sources: as well as the above, the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada.
Route: Regina to Moose Jaw