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Burrowing Owl

Although populations of the Florida Burrowing Owl are stable and at no risk of extinction, there has been widespread national and international concern in recent years about declines in populations of the western Burrowing Owl. In Alberta, the Burrowing Owl is classified as endangered under the Wildlife Act, and, in 1996, was included on the Red List of species that are at risk in the province.

The Burrowing Owl was classified as an endangered animal in Alberta under the Alberta Wildlife Act in 1987. The species was also included on Alberta's Red List in 1991, indicating its provincial population was in danger of declining to the point of becoming nonviable. The reasons given for this listing were the dramatic declines in the provincial and national populations, continued cultivation of nest sites, loss of ground squirrels, and pesticide use. For these same reasons, the Burrowing Owl was again categorized as a Red List species in the 1996 review of the status of Alberta wildlife.

Specific habitat characteristics of sites occupied by Burrowing Owls vary with geographic location. The three basic attributes of nesting habitat for the western Burrowing Owl are available nest burrows, short or sparse vegetation, and open terrain. On the Canadian prairies, nests are found on flat to gently undulating, treeless plains. Ground squirrel and Black-tailed Prairie Dog burrows, Badger excavations, and occasionally fox dens are used for nesting, roosting, and storing food.

Burrowing Owls are most abundant in the Mixedgrass and Dry mixedgrass ecoregions of Alberta, and are seldom found in the aspen parkland and fescue grass ecoregions of the province. Vegetation type does not appear to be important as long as it is kept short or sparse by soil or climatic conditions, grazing, haying, mowing, or burning. With present land-use practices, areas grazed by livestock provide the vast majority of nesting habitat for Burrowing Owls in Canada.

The Burrowing Owl is a predator of small vertebrates and invertebrates. Early in the breeding season, many dung and carrion beetles are eaten, and deer mice and voles constitute upwards of 90% of the diet. Later in the season, in some years, grasshoppers become more important in the diet, and are particularly important prey for fledglings learning to hunt on their own.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl