Burrowing owls have a short, square tail, long, slender legs and yellow eyes. They lack ear tufts and have pale brown plumage, spotted and barred with white. Juveniles are not as heavily spotted as adults.
Burrowing owls are one of the smallest owls, reaching only 9 inches (23 centimeters) in height and weighing as little as 4-7 ounces (113-198 grams). Females are slightly smaller than males, which is unusual in owls.
They live in deserts, plains and fields of western North America, and drier regions of Central and South America. Burrowing owls spend their winters in the southwestern U.S.
A burrowing owl's diets includes small birds, reptiles, fish, rodents and large insects. They may hover above the ground in search of prey or hunt from a perch. They might also catch insects in flight.
Courtship begins in April. Pairs can be observed perching together, rubbing heads and cooing. They nest underground, usually in abandoned burrows dug by another animal, such as prairie dogs. Although, on occasion, they will dig their own burrow.
Males line the nest with grasses, roots and dung; the odor from the dung helps protect the eggs from predators. Females lay five to 9 round white eggs, and parents take turns incubating the eggs for about four weeks before they hatch. Both parents care for the owlets, which fledge after about 40 days. While still in the nest, the owlets' distress cry mimics the sound of a rattlesnake and scares off predators.
Unlike most other owls, burrowing owls are diurnal, or most active during the day. They are very energetic, bobbing up and down when they perch.
They are the only small owl species to perch on the ground and are so terrestrial that when disturbed, they will often run or flatten themselves against the ground, rather than fly away.
Burrowing owls are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Their primary threats include habitat loss and predation. Up to half of their population loss can be accounted for by badger predation, but their other predators include coyotes and raptors.
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