Athene cunicularia
(Burrowing Owl)

Order: Strigiformes
Order Description: Owls
Family: Strigidae
Family Description: Typical Owls

Physical Description:
9-11" (23-28 cm). Small owl with no ear tufts on rounded head; stubby tail and long legs. Earth brown with white spots on back, wings, and crown; whitish below with brown barring. Whitish eyebrows and chin stripe; yellow eyes. Immature has no barring below.

A cackling alarm note: quick-quick-quick. Also a mellow, rolling dove-like coo- c-o-o.

Breeds in southwestern Canada, south through western U.S., central Mexico, and central and southern Florida, to much of South America (locally). Withdraws from northernmost portions of breeding range in northern winter. Winters regularly south to portions of Central America.

Found in open grasslands (especially prairies, plains and savannas), and sometimes in open areas such as airports or vacant lots near human habitation. In southern Idaho, nests in sagebrush steppeClick word for definition and agricultural lands.

Feeds primarily on large insects (especially in warmer months) and rodents. Sometimes eats birds and amphibians.

Primarily NocturnalClick word for definition in winter in northern range, diurnalClick word for definition and crepuscularClick word for definition in summer. Catches prey in flight or drops to ground. Nests and roosts in burrow dug by mammal or owl. May mimic rattlesnake if disturbed in burrow. Territory defense is mainly limited to immediate vicinity of nest burrow; may share foraging area. Badger plays important role in nesting ecology in Idaho -- provides nest burrows and is a major predator. Reported densities: 12.5 ha/pair (California); 3.5-6 ha/pair (North Dakota); 13-16 ha/pair (Saskatchewan). Home range in Saskatchewan reported at 0.14-4.81 km2; 95% of all movements were within 600 m of nest burrow.

Female incubatesClick word for definition 6-7 eggs (on average), for 27-30 days. Male provides food during incubation and early nestling stages. Young (average of 3-5 fledglingsClick word for definition) run and forage at 4 wk, are capable of sustained flight at 6 wk, and first breed at 1 yr (some may not). Female generally produces 1 broodClick word for definition/yr.

Element Code: ABNSB10010
Status: Protected nongame species
Global Rank: G4
State Rank: S3,NTMB
National Rank: N4B,N4N

Important State References:
Rich, T. 1986. Habitat and nest-site selection by burrowing owls in the sagebrush steppe of Idaho. J. Wildl. Manage. 50:548-555.

Photo by R. Bennetts,© 1999.
Written by Jason Karl, 2000.
Design by Ean Harker©1999, 2000.