Burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) are wee birds that, as their monikers show, live in burrows. They seek out underground residences that were previously established by animals such as prairie dogs, tortoises, pocket gophers, skunks and ground squirrels. They can make burrows themselves, too. These diurnal owls possess several useful protective mechanisms that frequently keep them safe against predation.
About Burrowing Owls
These little owls typically weigh around 6 ounces, with lengths of approximately 10 inches. Male and female specimens don't usually differ in size, which is a rarity in the owl world. Their plumage is mostly brown, although it also features white spotting. Their breasts are tan. Their coloration is similar to their surroundings and therefore often functions as camouflage against predation. Other memorable physical characteristics of burrowing owls include elongated limbs, intense circular yellow eyes and inconspicuous tails. They don't have ear tufts. Burrowing owls typically reside in diverse locales such as deserts, savannas, golf courses and graveyards. They're generally drawn to arid, wide open settings.
Burrowing owls possess one extremely handy defense mechanism that helps keep predators at bay. When they're scared and want to dissuade predators from going inside their burrows, they produce hissing sounds that are are uncannily similar to those of rattlesnakes. These spot-on sounds often startle predators so much that they refrain from going in the nests. Not only are mature specimens capable of hissing in this manner, so are their offspring, too. Adult burrowing owls also often give off high-pitched shrieks when they sense danger.
Selecting Safe Nesting Spots
Male burrowing owls are in charge of getting the nests ready for use in times of breeding. They make sure the burrows are sufficiently large, for one. If they're not, they expand them. Burrowing owls live on the ground, and as a result have to be extremely cautious in selecting nesting locales. Since they can't stay away from predators by setting up their nests in trees, they usually opt for areas that don't have tall plants. This lack of obstruction helps the owls spot nearby dangers. Burrowing owls also usually scout out nesting areas that aren't near trees. If they're too close to trees, they're more susceptible to attack from bigger birds that are waiting above.
Burrowing owls employ their self-defense techniques against a wide array of animals. Their most prominent predators include domestic dogs, house cats, bobcats, armadillos, ferrets, weasels, coyotes, snakes, skunks, badgers and fellow birds of prey, albeit bigger ones. Since burrowing owls live on terra firm, they're much more vulnerable to predators than the majority of their fellow owls.
- Defenders of Wildlife: Burrowing Owl
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds: Burrowing Owl
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Athene Cunicularia
- The Peregrine Fund: Burrowing Owl
- Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation: Burrowing Owl
- Texas Parks & Wildlife: Burrowing Owl
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: Burrowing Owl
- Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC: Burrowing Owl Basics
- Canisius Ambassadors for Conservation: Burrowing Owl
- Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center: Burrowing Owls
- Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images