Learn About Burrowing Owls
The Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) is a small, long-legged owl found throughout open landscapes of North and South America.
The average adult is 25 cm (10 inches) in length, 53 cm (21 inches) wingspan, and is 170g (6 oz). They have bright yellow eyes. The beak can be between yellowish or greenish depending on the subspecies. The legs are incompletely feathered and grayish in color. They lack ear tufts and have a flattened facial disc. The owls have prominent white eyebrows and a white “chin” patch which they expand and display during certain behaviors. Adult owls have brown upperparts with white spotting. The breast and belly are white with variable brown spotting or barring.
The nesting season begins in late March or April in North America. Burrowing owls are usually monogamous, but occasionally a male will have two mates. They can be found in grasslands, rangelands, agricultural areas, deserts, or any other dry, open area with low vegetation. The owls nest in an underground burrow (such as those excavated by prairie dogs) hence the name Burrowing Owl.
The female will lay an egg every 1 or 2 days until she has completed a clutch that consists of usually 9 eggs. She will then incubate the eggs for three to four weeks while the male brings her food. After the eggs hatch, both parents will feed the chicks. Four weeks after hatching, the chicks are able to make short flights and begin leaving the nest burrow. The parents will still help feed the chicks for 1 to 3 months. While most of the eggs will hatch, only four to five chicks usually survive to leave the nest.
Unlike most owls, burrowing owls are often active during the day, although they tend to avoid the mid-day heat. Most hunting is still done from dusk until dawn. When hunting, they wait on a perch until they spot prey. Then, they swoop down on their prey or fly up to catch insects in flight. Sometimes, they chase their prey on foot across the ground. They mainly eat large insects and small rodents.
Although the Burrowing owl is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, it is endangered in Canada, threatened in Mexico, and a species of special concern in Florida and most of the western USA. It is common and widespread in open regions of many Neotropical countries, where they sometimes even inhabit fields and parks in cities. In regions bordering the Amazon Rainforest they are spreading with deforestation. Burrowing owls are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. They are also included in CITES Appendix II.
The major reasons for declining populations in North America are control programs for prairie dogs and loss of habitat.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Subclass: Neornithes
- Infraclass: Neognathae
- Superorder: Neoaves
- Order: Strigiformes
- Family: Strigidae
- Genus: Athene
- Species: A. cunicularia
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