Endangered Species Highlight: The...

Endangered Species Highlight: The Burrowing Owl

by Sarah Leung
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Since European settlers first arrived in Canada, over 100 animal species have disappeared. Those animals have become extinct, meaning that none of those animals live in Canada anymore. When an animal species is close to becoming extinct, they are usually called “endangered.” This tells people that they should take steps to protect these animals. Without people’s help, an animal species can be gone forever.

In fact, knowing about endangered species is so important that there is a day for them – Endangered Species Day is taking place this year on May 20, 2022. Like many places in the world, Canada has endangered species that people should know about. In honour of the 17th Endangered Species Day, I would like to focus on an endangered animal species in Canada: The Burrowing Owl.

What is the Burrowing Owl?

Burrowing Owls are small owls that can be found in Canada, but they also fly to America and Mexico in the winter. Within Canada, Burrowing Owls are usually found in prairie areas such as Alberta and Saskatchewan. Burrowing Owls tend to have opposite behaviours compared to other owls.

While many other owls live in trees and are active during the night, Burrowing Owls live in the ground and are active during the day. They spend their days looking for prey such as insects and mice. Their habit of living in burrows, small holes in the ground, is where their name comes from. While “burrowing” is in the Burrowing Owl’s name, Burrowing Owls do not actually do this action: they depend on other animals such as foxes, squirrels, and pocket gophers, to make their homes.

Why Are Burrowing Owls Endangered?

As of 2015, there are only 270 Burrowing Owls living in the Canadian prairies, and fewer will be found if they are not protected. There are two big reasons as to why Burrowing Owls are endangered: their homes are being destroyed by land development and farming techniques are hurting them.

Over 75% of original Canadian grassland has been turned into land for farming. This leaves Burrowing Owls with less space for homes. On farmland, farmers use chemicals called pesticides to protect their crops. The pesticides might protect crops but can hurt (and even kill) Burrowing Owls if they eat them. Pesticides are not only bad for Burrowing Owls, but also the other animals that Burrowing Owls depend on.

How Can Burrowing Owls be Protected?

The easiest thing to do is spread the word about Burrowing Owls. Making people more aware of these animals and the dangers that they face will help them in the future. The amount of construction and the amount of pesticide usage happening in Burrowing Owls’ homes cannot be ignored.

Canadian programs such as the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program and Saskatchewan’s Operation Burrowing Owl are helping protect Burrowing Owls. There is still a lot to learn about Burrowing Owls that can be key to helping them survive. The exact number of Burrowing Owls in the Canadian prairies is unknown, so reporting any Burrowing Owl sightings will help organizations.



Atter, Heidi. “Operation Burrowing Owl Asks People to Report Sightings of At-Risk Species.” CBC News, 9 June 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/burrowing-owl-sightings-saskatchewan-1.5604935. Accessed 6 Apr. 2022.

“Burrowing Owl.” Hinterland’s Who’s Who, https://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/birds/burrowing-owl.html. Accessed 7 Apr. 2022.

“Burrowing Owl – Grasslands National Park.” Parks Canada, Government of Canada, 13 Apr. 2018, https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/sk/grasslands/nature/faune-wildlife/cheveche-owl. Accessed 6 Apr. 2022.

“Endangered Species Day.” Endangered Species Coalition, https://www.endangered.org/campaigns/endangered-species-day/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2022.

“Home.” Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program, http://www.mborp.ca/. Accessed 7 Apr. 2022. Accessed 6 Apr. 2022.

Kraus, Dan. “Stopping Habitat Loss Is the Key to Saving Canada’s Endangered Species.” The Hamilton Spectator, 16 Nov. 2020, https://www.thespec.com/opinion/contributors/2020/11/16/stopping-habitat-loss-is-the-key-to-saving-canadas-endangered-species.html. Accessed 9 Apr. 2022.

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