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The Ivory Bill·Birds·Hawks & Owls

Burrowing Owls, Athene cunicularia

Burrowing owl perched at its ground home entrance

Burrowing Owls are found in open grasslands, deserts, agricultural areas, pastures, prairies, and even urban areas with suitable open spaces across the Americas. They have a broad range that extends from the western United States, including parts of Canada and Mexico, down to South America. They are typically non-migratory but may move short distances within their range.

Burrowing Owls are state threatened species in Colorado and Florida, a California species of special concern, endangered in Canada, and threatened in Mexico.

Burrowing Owls are primarily crepuscular hunters, active at dawn and dusk. They rely on their keen eyesight and hearing to locate prey. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, such as mice, voles, rats, and ground squirrels. They also feed on insects, small birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Burrowing Owls are known to exhibit unique hunting behaviors, such as standing on raised perches or running on the ground to catch prey.

Burrowing Owls are named for their habit of nesting underground. They often repurpose abandoned burrows dug by mammals, such as prairie dogs or ground squirrels. However, they are also capable of digging their own burrows if suitable ones are unavailable. Burrowing Owls are skilled excavators, and their burrows can be up to 3 feet deep and have multiple entrances. They line the burrow chamber with grass, feathers, and other materials to create a nest.

The breeding season of Burrowing Owls typically begins in spring. The female lays a clutch of 4 to 12 eggs, with an average of 6 to 8. The eggs are white and spherical. The female incubates the eggs while the male provides food. Incubation lasts around 3 to 4 weeks. Once the eggs hatch, both parents participate in raising the young. The chicks are initially altricial, meaning they are naked and helpless, but they quickly develop feathers and grow rapidly. The parents provide food for the chicks, which primarily consists of small mammals and insects.

The young Burrowing Owls start to leave the nest at around 6 to 7 weeks of age, although they may still return to the burrow for shelter and food. They become fully independent and capable of sustained flight at approximately 9 to 10 weeks. The parents continue to provide support and guidance to the fledglings for some time before they disperse and establish their territories.

Burrowing Owls are generally non-migratory. However, some populations located in the northern parts of their range may migrate to more southern areas for the winter.

One notable behavior is their tendency to perch or stand near the entrance of their burrows during the day. They have distinctive long legs and can sometimes be seen bobbing or nodding their heads, possibly to detect prey or communicate. Burrowing Owls are also known for their ability to imitate the sound of rattlesnakes when threatened, which helps deter potential predators. They have a relatively long lifespan for a small owl species, with individuals living up to 9 years in the wild and even longer in captivity.