Paul and Joyce Berquist
© 2007 Paul and Joyce Berquist
Burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) are a small ground-dwelling bird with a round head, white eyebrows, yellow eyes, no ear tufts and long legs. They have brown-streaked colored feathers on the head, back, and upperparts of the wings and are white-to-cream colored underneath with barring on the breast and a prominent white chin stripe.
Burrowing owls are, unlike other owls, diurnal. Much of their hunting, nesting, mating, and other activities take place during the daylight hours. They have feathers on the back of their head that look a bit like an extra set of eyes. This may make a predator think twice before getting too close. Burrowing owls also have better color vision than other owls, an aid when hunting during the daytime.
Burrowing owls are found in open, dry grasslands, agricultural or range lands, and desert habitats that are often associated with other burrowing animals such as prairie dogs. They also inhabit grass and shrub stages of pinyon and ponderosa pine habitats.
The burrowing owl is found both in North and South America. In the U.S., the owl lives mostly in the west, but several thousand reside in the dryer parts of South and Central Florida.
Burrowing owls are listed as a “species of special concern” in several states because of declining numbers. They are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
Their diet will vary depending on the seasons. They will eat small mammals such as mice, rats, ground squirrels and moles during the summer. Beetles and grasshoppers make of a large part of their diet in other months. They will also eat small birds, reptiles and amphibians when available.
Burrowing owls have many natural enemies, including larger owls, hawks, falcons, badgers, skunks, ferrets, armadillos, snakes, and domestic cats and dogs.
The burrowing owl gets it name because it lives in underground burrows. They nest in abandoned burrows dug by mammals such as prairie dogs or squirrels or if soil conditions allow they will dig their own burrows. They will also use man-made nest boxes that have been placed underground. They often line their nest with an assortment of dry plant materials or feathers. The female lays 6 - 11 eggs that are incubated for 28 - 30 days.
Burrowing owls can live 8-10 years in the wild and over 10 years in captivity.
They are between 8-11 inches in length with a wingspan between 18-22 inches. They weigh 6.0-7.5 ounces.
The Burrowing owl can make more than seventeen vocalizations.
When alarmed, young birds will give a hissing call that sounds like a rattlesnake.
Unlike most owls, the male bird is slightly heavier and has a longer wingspan than the females.