The National Wildlife Federation

Donate Donate

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Athene cunicularia

Status: Not Listed

Classification: Bird

Description

The burrowing owl is a ground-dwelling bird species. This owl's characteristics include long legs, a brown body with speckles of white, and the absence of ear tufts. Both males and females stand about 10 inches (25 centimeters) tall and weigh six ounces (170 grams). The burrowing owl's wingspan is 20 to 24 inches (51 to 61 centimeters).

Range

Summer breeding populations of burrowing owls can be found from the Midwest to the eastern parts of the Pacific states and into Canada. Winter populations are found in Central America and Mexico. Burrowing owls can be seen year-round in Florida, Mexico, and parts of South America, excluding the Amazon rain forest. Burrowing owls live in burrows dug by other animals in open, treeless spaces. In the U.S. they are most abundant in the burrows of various prairie dog species.

Diet

Burrowing owls eat insects, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and other birds, depending on the season and food availability. They are most active at dawn and dusk, but some owls hunt during both day and night. Insects are more often caught during the day, and more mammals are consumed at night.

Life History

The burrowing owl may dig its own nest or utilize the abandoned burrows of prairie dogs, armadillos, skunks, or pocket gophers. Both parents take care of their young until they are ready to leave the nest, about 40 days after hatching. The owlets are able to scare away predators by hiding in the burrow and mimicking the sounds of a rattlesnake. A burrowing owl's average lifespan is six to eight years.

Conservation

Populations of burrowing owls are declining in some areas due to pesticide use, poisoning of prairie dog colonies, and automobile collisions. Conservation concerns differ by region, and in various states they are listed as endangered, threatened, or as a species of concern. They also are of conservation concern in Canada and Mexico.

Fun Fact

Burrowing owls collect mammal waste that they put around their nests to attract dung beetles, one of their favorite foods.

Sources

Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

Burrowing Owl Conservation Network

NatureServe Explorer

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The Institute of Bird Populations

Get Involved

   Please leave this field empty

Happening Near You

You don't have to travel far to join us for an event. Attend an upcoming event with one of our regional centers or affiliates.

Learn More