Burrowing Owl
(Athene cunicularia)


Picture of bird
© John Reaume
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

The Burrowing Owl was once a common breeding bird, but the species is now rare on the dry grasslands in western Canada. Targeted surveys in the prairie provinces indicate that the Canadian Burrowing Owl population decreased by about 90% in the 1990s, and by another 64% between 2005–2015 (COSEWIC 2017a). Because of its small and declining population, it was designated as Threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada 1979 and 1991, then re-assessed as Endangered in 1995, in 2006, and again in 2017 (COSEWIC 2017a). This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
COSEWIC (Canada)Endangered2017 
SARA (Canada)Endangered2003 
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Wild Species (Canada)Critically imperiled2015 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaLarge DecreaseHighBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada< 500 adults

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Long-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population
CanadaVery Low

General nesting period in Canada

Nesting period starts between early May and mid-May and ends in mid-August, depending on the region. Before or after this period, the probability of an active nest is lower.

Conservation and management

The causes of the widespread decline in Burrowing Owl populations are not clearly known, but research shows that modifications to their habitat and declining prey availability are the biggest threats to the species (COSEWIC 2017a). Other threats include significant and continuing loss of habitat, both on the breeding and wintering grounds, pesticides, and collisions with vehicles (COSEWIC 2006d). Historically, Burrowing Owls depended on other burrowing mammals (such as prairie dogs) for nest sites. The loss of prairie dog colonies due to agricultural operations has limited the number of available nest sites, and contributed to the decline of Burrowing Owl populations (Poulin et al. 2011). Ongoing attempts to re-establish a viable breeding population in southern British Columbia have shown some success (COSEWIC 2017a). However, captive breeding and release efforts in Manitoba have had limited success (COSEWIC 2017a). For information on the legal status of this species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and to view the Recovery Strategy, see the SARA Registry.


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Great BasinGreat Basin, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon -- Conservation
Prairie PotholesPrairie Potholes, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Conservation