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Basic Facts about Burrowing Owls

Kulbhushaan Raghuvanshi
Unlike many of its hooting cousins, the burrowing or the ground owl prefers occupying the burrows of prairie dogs and ground squirrels, rather than building a nest on a tree. Let's learn some more interesting behavioral aspects of this distinctive owl.

Did You Know?

One of the most distinctive features of the burrowing owl is its ability to stay active during the day as well as the night. However, like many other owls, they do most of their hunting from dusk till dawn.
Burrowing owls prefer staying in treeless or open dry areas such as grasslands, prairies, deserts, and farms with low vegetation. They can also be found near airfields, and along the banks of drainage ditches. The burrowing owl habitat ranges from Southwestern Canada to Southern Mexico, and Southern Brazil to Patagonia.
They are also known to habitat Western Central America, Tierra del Fuego, Florida, and various Caribbean islands. Except for the ones inhabiting Florida, burrowing owls are migratory in nature. During winter they travel to Southern Mexico and Central America. Those in Washington, D. C. migrate along the south coast.
The other known sub-species of burrowing owls are - Antiguan Burrowing Owl, Aruba Burrowing Owl, Brazilian Burrowing Owl, Bolivian Burrowing Owl, Corrientes Burrowing Owl, Cuban Burrowing Owl, East Colombian Burrowing Owl, Florida Burrowing Owl, Guadeloupe Burrowing Owl, Guyanan Burrowing Owl, Hispaniolan Burrowing Owl, Margarita Burrowing Owl,
Northern Burrowing Owl, Punta Gorda Burrowing Owl, Revillagigedo Burrowing Owl, South Andean Burrowing Owl, Southern Burrowing Owl, Southwest Peruvian Burrowing Owl, Venezuelan Burrowing Owl, West Colombian Burrowing Owl, West Ecuadorean Burrowing Owl, and West Peruvian Burrowing Owl.

Interesting Burrowing Owl Facts

► One of the smallest members of the owl family, burrowing owls have bright yellow eyes, thin long legs, and a white brow.
They lacks ear tufts, and their body is covered with brown and white spotted feathers. Juveniles are light brown and less mottled in appearance.
► Burrowing owls stand about 7 to 10 inches in height with a wingspan of almost 22 to 24 inches, and weigh almost 5 to 9 ounces.
They are known to survive for almost 7 to 8 years in the wild, and almost 12 years in captivity.
► Unlike other species, male and female owls have a similar physical structure, and display very little sexual dimorphism.
Females are heavier than males, but males are larger in size, and also have a longer wingspan.
► These owls live in loose colonies with adults standing on a tree branch, fence post, or on the ground during the night.
As they rarely dig their own burrows, these owls usually occupy burrows or holes that are excavated by prairie dogs or ground squirrels. When adults get distressed or excited, they tend to bob their heads, and make a high pitched ducking call.
► Ten to twelve pairs may share a huge area, but each hole has an approximate distance of almost 80 yards.
► Due to their variable habitat, their diet includes a range of small mammals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians.
Birds such as horned larks and adult mourning doves also constitute an important part of their diet. During food shortages, adults are known to capture owlets from other nests to feed their own young. Burrowing owls catch their prey by walking, running, hopping, fly-catching, or pouncing on it.
► The breeding period generally begins during spring. Burrowing owls are monogamous in nature, but sometimes a male can have two mates.
► The females lay almost 6 to 12 eggs that are incubated for almost a month. After the young ones are born, both parents feed them for almost 3 to 4 weeks. The young ones have been observed to take short flights after 4 weeks of hatching. In certain instances, parents have fed the young ones for almost 3 months.
► During the nesting period, burrowing owls collect various materials to line their nest. Out of the many, the most common is mammal dung, which they place in and around the entrance of their nest. Previously experts thought that the dung helped cover the scent of owlets, but researchers now believe that the dung is used to attract dung beetles, and camouflage the nest from predators.
► When threatened, they start emitting a noise that resembles a rattlesnake. They have many natural predators such as badgers, snakes, coyotes, and feral as well as domesticated cats and dogs.
The population of burrowing owls has been on a steady decline for a number of years now. They are already a species of 'Special Concern' in Florida and the Western United States, 'Endangered' in Canada, and 'Threatened' in Mexico.
The biggest threat to their population is their loss of habitat, and prairie dog control measures. Collision with cars is also a contributing factor to its declining population.