Late July marks the end of a busy season for the Burrowing Owl. After weeks of being fed by their parents, juvenile owls are now starting to leave the nest and forage for themselves. This is an especially good time for travellers in rural Saskatchewan to spot Burrowing Owls, but it can also be a dangerous time for inexperienced Burrowing Owls. Young owls tend to forage in roadside ditches, looking for small invertebrates and rodents. “At dusk the road surface tends to be warmer than surrounding grasslands, attracting many small insects and rodents,” explains Kaytlyn Burrows, coordinator of Operation Burrowing Owl, “As a result young owls are also attracted to the road and ditch when they begin searching for prey.”
Many young Burrowing Owls are killed by motorists each year whilst foraging along the road. The Burrowing Owl population has been steadily declining making the survival of each juvenile owl critical for the survival and growth of the population. “Motorists can help reduce the risk of owl-vehicle collisions by slowing down near known or potential nest sites, and being on the lookout for low flying owls”, says Burrows. Slowing down will also increase your chances of spotting this endangered bird!
Burrowing Owls are about 9 inches tall, with mottled brown and white feathers, bushy white ‘eyebrows’, and long featherless legs. They are often found nesting in native prairie that has been well grazed, as the short grass allows them to spot predators. Burrowing Owls nest in burrows excavated by badgers, ground squirrels, or other burrowing mammals, and may be seen standing on their burrow, sitting on nearby fence posts, or foraging in the ditches.
Since 1987 Nature Saskatchewan’s Operation Burrowing Owl has worked with landowners to protect and enhance Burrowing Owl habitat. In addition, the program relies on the participation of landowners to help monitor the Burrowing Owl population.
Currently, there are nearly 400 landowners across Saskatchewan participating in Operation Burrowing Owl.
If you spot a Burrowing Owl, please let us know by calling Operation Burrowing Owl at our toll-free Hoot Line at 1-800-667-HOOT (4668). Landowner information is not shared without permission.