Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Athene cunicularia
L 8-10” / WS 22”

The Burrowing Owl is a small, mostly diurnal (active during the daytime) owl, unlike most owls that are nocturnal (active at night). However, they will migrate during the nighttime and hunt throughout the night, catching mostly mice as opposed to mostly insects during the day. They are found in dry, open desert grasslands (often where prairie dog towns are), sage deserts, and sandy grasslands. The most unique aspect of the Burrowing Owl is that they nest in burrows in the ground (hence their name). Although they are capable of digging burrows and do so when needed, they often use already-dug burrows of prairie dogs, skunks, and other digging animals. Burrowing Owls eat mainly insects that they find on the ground, but will catch lizards, some birds, and other small animals when the opportunity arises. They often place mammal dung around their burrows that attracts dung beetles, which the Burrowing Owl then feeds on. Their regurgitated pellets are often made up of beetle exoskeletons. They hunt mostly on foot, and are fast runners when chasing prey. Burrowing Owls are widespread and fairly common throughout the Western half of the US (including southern Canada) through to South America. They also reside in the Florida peninsula and the islands due south (see map). In some areas, the Burrowing Owl is declining in numbers and quite rare. When mating, they make a series of sharp “he heear” calls, and make a fast chittering call year-round. Nestlings and fledglings give a raspy single note when begging.

Shape

  • Perched, appear stocky with broad body and rounded head, short wings and tail, and long, skinny legs.
  • Lack “ear” tufts.
  • In flight, wings are broad, somewhat short, and rounded at tips, head is large.

Flight

  • Has stiff, snappy wing beats, flies for short distances when flushed.

Plumage

  • Adult is mottled brownish and whitish overall with underside lightly to heavily barred brown, whitish eyebrows, white neck collar and well defined facial disk.
  • Juvenile is dark brown overall with pale belly, and white under bill and eyes.
  • Large, bright yellow eyes and pale bill; bill of juvenile darker.
  • Sexes are identical in size and color.

Migration

  • Most from the northern region migrate, some move short distances; southern population is less migratory.

Distribution

(Map from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds. For dynamic distribution maps, visit the eBird website.)

 Burr-Owl map

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