Common name: Burrowing owl

Scientific name: Athene cunicularia

Other names: None

Identification: Burrowing owls are one of the smallest owl species measuring 7 ½ - 10 inches (19-25 cm) high with a 21 inch (53 cm) wingspan. They weigh about 1/3 lbs. (150 g) and have long legs. Colors are brown and white with bars across the chest and spots on the back. No ear tufts. Males and females about the same size.

Habitat: Grasslands, pastures, prairie dog colonies. Areas with other burrowing animals.

Food: Burrowing owls do not prey on prairie dogs but do thrive on healthy prairie dog colonies because of the insect abundance. Beetles, other insects, small mammals, small birds, reptiles and amphibians all are eaten by burrowing owls.

Reproduction: In spring a pair of burrowing owls will select a burrow, usually dug by another animal, for their nest. Female will lay 2-12 eggs below ground.

Behavior: Often burrowing owls will use dung to disguise the scent of their burrows from predators and attract food such as dung beetles. When approached burrowing owls will typically bob their heads. On a prairie dog colony they will often fly low between burrows and perch on the elevated edge of a burrow mound. Hunting is often done on foot as they chase insects. Active during the day and night.

Conservation status: Protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act but declining in many areas. Decline of burrowing owls in some areas is linked to decline of prairie dogs. Listed as endangered in Canada under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).


Recommended resources:

Owls of the United States and Canada: A Complete Guide to Their Biology and Behavior by Wayne Lynch. 2007.
Nesting Ecology of Burrowing Owls by Marco Restani et al. 2001.

PWR Footage of Burrowing owls: