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Burrowing owl

Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
Genus and Species: Athene cunicularia
  • Burrowing owl
  • small, mottled brown and white owl standing but looking rather sleepy
  • Two owls perched on a branch and facing forward. Their plumage is brown and white and they have short, hooked beaks
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Burrowing owls are one of the smallest owl species. Unlike most owls, they are very active during the day and nest in underground burrows. They are native to the deserts, plains and fields of western North America, and the drier regions of Central and South America.
Physical Description

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.
 

Size

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.

Native Habitat

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.

Food/Eating Habits

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. 

Social Structure

Burrowing owls often live in permanent pair bonds and may form colonies of several pairs nesting in the same area.

Reproduction and Development

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.

Sleep Habits

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.

Help this Species
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle — in that order! Cut back on single-use goods, and find creative ways to reuse products at the end of their life cycle. Choose recycling over trash when possible.
  • Share the story of this animal with others. Simply raising awareness about this species can contribute to its overall protection.
  • Are you a student? Did you love what you learned about this animal? Make it the topic of your next school project, or start a conservation club at your school. You'll learn even more and share the importance of saving species with classmates and teachers, too.
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