10 Incredible Burrowing Owl Facts

Written by Janet F. Murray
Published: September 16, 2022
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Owls are typically nocturnal and fly throughout the night when hunting. But burrowing owl facts change all that. These owls are pretty different from others as they are active during the day, hunt on the ground, and even live in the earth. These cute little owls have a broad diet and love food, so much so that a burrow has been discovered storing over 200 rodents. Let’s find out more about these fascinating burrowing owls.

1. Burrowing Owls Live in the Western Hemisphere

These owls live in North America, Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean Islands. Their habitats are primarily grasslands, deserts, farmlands, prairies, and savannahs. Interestingly, these owls prefer areas with little vegetation and trees.

2. Burrowing Owls Take Over Vacant Homes

baby burrowing owls in burrow

Burrowing owl facts include these birds hunting during the day, on the ground, and making their burrows in the ground, unlike many owl species that hunt and night and live above ground level.

©iStock.com/AGD Beukhof

Burrowing owls do not dig their burrows but live underground in abandoned nests built by other animals, like prairie dogs and ground squirrels, badgers, desert tortoises, coyotes, and foxes. Some burrowing owls will dig their own burrows only if they cannot find any vacant nests. Interestingly, burrowing owls will use dung when creating their nests. This may be because the waste attracts the insects that they enjoy eating.

3. Burrowing Owls Are Some of the Cutest Owls Out There!

Burrowing owls are one of the smallest species and only stand about ten inches tall. Their wingspan stretches to about two feet. They have brown feathers with unusual white markings across their chests, white chin stripes, and white eyebrows. Male burrowing owls have lighter brown feathers than females. Their large eyes are a deep, rich yellow, and they have long legs, which help them run quite quickly.

4. Burrowing Owls Are Carnivores

Burrowing Owl and her prey, the green snake.

Burrowing owl facts comprise a broad diet that includes snakes, storing food, and using food during mating rituals.

©Rafael Goes/Shutterstock.com

Their diet includes insects like grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles. They will also eat mice, ground squirrels, lizards, snakes, earthworms, amphibians, and small birds. These owls hunt by walking, hopping, hovering, or running after their prey on the ground.

5. Burrowing Owls Are Endangered

Burrowing owls are the least concern on the IUCN Red List, and the US Migratory Bird Act protects them. But, they are threatened in Mexico, endangered in Canada, and listed as a species of concern in California. Their populations have declined in many states, primarily because of habitat destruction. The destruction occurs because of pesticide use, poisoning of prairie dog colonies, and car crashes. These owls and their eggs are vulnerable to predators like bobcats, cougars, coyotes, foxes, and birds of prey. When attacked, the owl will scream and cluck while snapping its bill and flapping its wings. Groups of burrowing owls will sometimes work together to scare away a predator.

6. Female Burrowing Owls Can Lay Up to 12 Eggs at a Time

The owls will form a monogamous bond pair yearly and mate between February and May. After four weeks, the chicks will hatch and depend entirely on their parents. Male burrowing owls provide most of the food while the mothers will incubate the eggs and take care of the baby chicks. Female owls will not leave their young until they can thermoregulate, producing their own heat to stay warm. Baby chicks will fully fledge after 44 to 53 days and eventually leave their nests. Baby chicks are born with bars and spotted markings on them before developing their feathers. Burrowing owls live between six and eight years in the wild, with the oldest documented wild burrowing owl living to 11 years old.

7. Burrowing Owls are Noisy Communicators

animals that molt - Burrowing Owl

Burrowing owls communicate using a wide range of vocalizations

©Albert Beukhof/Shutterstock.com

These owls communicate a wide range of sounds, like clucking, screaming, and chattering. When in danger or faced by a predator, the owl makes hissing and rattling sounds to try and intimidate the predator. They also snap their bills and flap their wings when in distress. Adult burrowing owls have as many as 13 vocalizations, while chicks only have three. The chicks use these vocalizations to defend themselves, show distress, or ask for food. The typical sounds that these owls make are coo-coo during the daytime and a co-hoo during the nighttime. When they are excited, burrowing owls will do a ‘head bop.’

8. Most Owls Fly and Hunt at Night, but Burrowing Owls Don’t

Burrowing owls are active during the daytime when they hunt for their prey on the ground. They will hop, walk, and run while hunting for food. Most of their hunting occurs when insects are most active at sunrise and sunset. But the owls will preen, stretch, and bathe in water puddles or dust throughout the day.

9. Burrowing Owls Are Food Hoarders

Another incredible burrowing owl fact is that they hoard food. That’s right, like many burrowing animals, burrowing owls hoard their food for later consumption when food sources are scarce. For example, experts uncovered one of their shelters in 1997, containing over 200 rodents. As mentioned, male burrowing owls provide food for their chicks, capturing and bringing it home to the burrow. These birds also conserve energy by storing food, so they don’t have to hunt daily.

10. Burrowing Owls Use Food During Their Mating Rituals

These owls love food and will store up to hundreds of animals and insects. They use this collection during courtship when males lure females by offering them food. During these mating rituals, male owls will also sing, preen, fly up into the sky and descend, but this is not as important as offering food. After mating, the male owl will continue to bring food to the female until their young leave the nest.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Albert Beukhof/Shutterstock.com


Sources

  1. Kidadl, Available here: https://kidadl.com/facts/animals/burrowing-owl-facts
  2. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/burrowing-owl
  3. Tree Hugger, Available here: https://www.treehugger.com/wonderfully-weird-facts-about-burrowing-owls-4858494
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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with more than eight years of content creation experience. My content writing covers diverse genres, and I have a business degree. I am also the proud author of my memoir, My Sub-Lyme Life. This work details the effects of living with undiagnosed infections like rickettsia (like Lyme). By sharing this story, I wish to give others hope and courage in overcoming their life challenges. In my downtime, I value spending time with friends and family.

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