Burrowing owls are a perky little extrovert

On Feb. 26, Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS) will be hosting its sixth annual Eaglefest at the Maritime Heritage Center in Campbell River.

A family of burrowing owls stare down an intruder outside their man-made nest burrow.

On Feb. 26, Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS) will be hosting its sixth annual Eaglefest at the Maritime Heritage Center in Campbell River.

Bald eagles are magnificent birds and just one of many species cared for at our rehabilitation center. Eaglefest also provides us with an opportunity to invite a variety of guest speakers including biologists, naturalists, and birders to share their knowledge and experiences. This year is no exception and we offer a unique opportunity to learn more about one of B.C.’s endangered species and the program that hopes to successfully breed and return families back to the wild, sustaining and increasing their populations – burrowing owls.

Burrowing owls are perky, extroverted and have many fascinating habits and characteristics. They are diminutive in size. Standing only 21-28 cm, they have a 51-61 cm wing span and weigh between 160-240 grams.

Habitat for these owls is very specific. They need dry grassland and valley bottoms that are also inhabited with burrowing mammals.

Found in a few locations across the mid and western United States, they are also found in small areas of B.C and Alberta.

Their natural range in B.C. is less than one percent of the land in the Kamloops, Thompson-Nicola region and in the Osoyoos area.

In 2005 MARS rescued an adult burrowing owl in Campbell River; apparently it had strayed off course during the spring migration and was sent to a breeding facility in the Fraser Valley.

As their name suggests, these owls live underground in previously-excavated burrows, mainly those of prairie dogs, badgers, ground squirrels and ferrets. With the loss of agricultural lands and urban expansion, these owls have adapted to golf courses, along airport edges and even to manmade burrows.

Comical and inquisitive, these little owls are perfectly camouflaged to blend in with the sandy and dry grassy areas they inhabit. Their bodies and backs are brown covered with white spots and bars, their legs and under parts are beige with brown barring.

Little round bodies sit atop stilt-like legs which are covered with very short feathers which prevent snagging as they run through the grass when chasing prey.

Large yellow eyes stare out from under white eyebrows.

Burrowing owls hunt during the day but prefer dawn and dusk when the temperature is cooler. Favourite prey for these owls includes a variety of insects, scorpions, snakes, grasshoppers, small rodents and birds.

Unlike most owls, burrowing owls are community dwellers living in small colonies; they will often hunt together posting a male on “sentry duty” who will raise a vocal alarm if danger approaches sending the colony scurrying underground to safety.

Usually burrowing owls hunt from an elevated vantage point dropping to the ground pursuing the prey on foot.

Burrowing owls are migratory birds and they can travel over 3,500 kilometres south to Texas and Mexico. Leaving in September they return in April for the breeding season.

The male prepares the burrow, removing old material and digging out dirt before relining the burrow with new material including dung complete with dung beetle larva which provides the brooding female with food. Its odor deters unwanted visitors.

Six to 12 white eggs are produced over a period of days allowing each owlet access to food.

Burrowing owls were listed as threatened species for many years and upgraded to “endangered” in 1996.

In 1983 the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C. was established after it was noted that the owls’ populations were declining.

Working with the B.C. Ministry of Environment, families of burrowing owls were transplanted from Northern Washington State to the Osoyoos and Vaseaux Lakes areas in hopes that they would boost local populations.

The program was discontinued in 1989 when returning migrant owls started to dwindle and so did Washington State’s own populations.

In 1990, a new program was underway establishing new facilities with specially-designed, man-made burrows and a captive breeding program. This program studied suitable release sites, worked with landowners and local municipalities educating them about the owls and the conservation program.

The goal is to release breeding pairs into suitable locations in hopes that they will reproduce and continue to thrive. So far the program seems to be reaching the goals it has set and educating the public to the continued threats to these owls.

We are thrilled to have Mike MacIntosh who runs the program along with “Beaker” the burrowing owl ambassador at the eagle fest.

Please check our web site at www.wingtips.org for more information and www.burrowingowlbc.org for more details on the program.

Just Posted

Campbell River’s Brind’Amour reflects on year one as NHL coach

Hurricane legend speaks about the season, the Storm Surge and life in Carolina

Georgia Park students keeping their heads up after another case of vandalism

Bird and bee houses torn off the trees and smashed, but the kids bounced back and put more up

Brind’Amour/Nugent-Hopkins golf tourney in Campbell River raises $122,000

Fundraiser for cystic fibrosis has raised roughly $1.8 million since it started 24 years ago

Elusive ‘ghost whale’ surfaces near Campbell River

Local ecotourism operator captures images of the rare white orca

Campbell River gallery provides taste of Syria for many senses

Afternoon event features music, dance, food and more from the Middle Eastern Country

Campbell River gallery provides taste of Syria for many senses

Afternoon event features music, dance, food and more from the Middle Eastern Country

Sexting teens at risk of harms including depression, substance use: study

Use of alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana were also found to be associated with sexting

Deadline for cabinet to decide future of Trans Mountain expansion is today

International Trade Minister Jim Carr described the decision as ‘very significant’

Victoria mom describes finding son ‘gone’ on first day of coroners inquest into overdose death

Resulting recommendations could change handling of youth records amidst the overdose crisis

Dash-cam video in trial of accused cop killer shows man with a gun

Footage is shown at trial of Oscar Arfmann, charged with killing Const. John Davidson of Abbotsford

Suicide confirmed in case of B.C. father who’d been missing for months

2018 disappearance sparked massive search for Ben Kilmer

Eight U.S. senators write to John Horgan over B.C. mining pollution

The dispute stems from Teck Resources’ coal mines in B.C.’s Elk Valley

Threats charge against Surrey’s Jaspal Atwal stayed

Atwal, 64, was at centre of controversy in 2018 over his attendance at prime minister’s reception in India

Anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to speak in Surrey

He’s keynote speaker at Surrey Environment and Business Awards luncheon by Surrey Board of Trade Sept. 17

Most Read