Protecting and enhancing the natural values of Salt Spring Island and its surrounding waters



Owls are birds of prey that have forward-facing eyes and a face that is disk-shaped or saucer-shaped, trapping sound waves and light waves. The predatory behaviour of owls is also aided by their hawk-like beak, talons, camouflage coloration, and feather structure enabling near-silent flight. Owls often swallow whole animals, then regurgitate the undigestible parts of the meal (hair, bones, feathers) in pellets that may be found on the ground near the nest.

Owls do not build typical bird nests, rather they may nest on the ground, on ledges, on platforms, in tree cavities, and commonly occupy abandoned nests of other bird species.

Rodenticides (rat poisons) threaten owl populations in BC. Newer rodenticides are potent blood thinners. These poisons can kill rats but travel through the food chain to kill or damage other animals as well. In a 2009 study where 164 dead owls were tested in BC, 70% of the owls had at least one anticoagulant rodenticide in their livers. Rodenticides may kill the owls outright, or affect their fitness in other ways, such as altering their ability to fly (leading to increased vehicle collisions) or causing them to bleed to death. Suggestions to help with this problem include reducing use of rodenticides, applying rodenticides in closed areas only, cleaning up garbage that attracts rodents, and using traps, such as new traps that shock rats killing them quickly.

Eight species of owls have been sighted on Salt Spring, and are shown below. Those most commonly encountered are the barred owl and the western screech owl.

The Conservancy welcomes reports of owl sightings if the species has been identified. Sightings can be reported via email to or via telephone to (250) 538-0318.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Aegolius acadicus This is a tiny, short-tailed owl with brown-streaked underparts that is found in forests and thickets. Nesting occurs in trees cavities and nest boxes. Prey includes deer mice, shews, and voles. Photo by

Short-eared Owl

Asio flammeus The Short-eared Owl has feather tufts resembling ears, which may or may not be easily visible. This owl is of crow-size with a mottled colour pattern and bars across the tail. A distinctive

Barred Owl

Strix varia This large brown-eyed owl has a horzontal barred pattern on the neck/chest area, whereas the belly is streaked vertically. Unlike several other Salt Spring owls, it lacks ear tufts. The Barred Owl is

Northern Pygmy Owl

Glaucidium gnoma swarthi This small brownish-grey owl (less than 20 cm) has a white belly with dark streaks, white spots on the head, and two dark patches on the back of the neck that resemble

Snowy Owl

Bubo scandiacus As the name implies, this large owl is whitish in colour. Males may be almost entirely white, except for three dark tail bands. Females and young show a pattern of dark bars or

Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianus This owl is named for the feather tufts on the head that resemble horns. A large bird may exceed 60 cm in length. The coastal great horned owl is brownish to grey in