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All Creatures,

Episode 58: Hoo, The Burrowing Owl, That’s Who

October 09, 2018

The Burrowing Owl is one of the most unique owl species on the planet. Rather than nesting or living in trees, these owls find abandoned burrows from squirrels, prairie dogs and other species and claim them as their own. These charismatic birds are highly adapted to their life in the Americas.

Burrowing Owl Background

There are over 216 species of owls throughout the world. Of all bird species, owls are the most advanced and highly evolved; this led to them being considered the “wisest” of all the bird species. These birds do not migrate, but rather have adapted to live in the same environment throughout the year. They are incredible hunters and are a key species in the balance of nature.

Burrowing Owls live in North, Central, South America and even on some Caribbean islands.

Owls have evolved for over 50 million years. Like all other bird species, they evolved from dinosaurs that survived the 5th Mass Extinction event. Owls have evolved into major family groups:

  • Tytonidae- Barn and Bay owls
  • Strigidae- all other owls

The Burrowing Owl’s scientific name is Athene cunicularia, and there are 20 sub-species.

Burrowing Owl Physiology

  • Burrowing owls are smaller, and size is between a robin and crow
  • They can stand up to 11 in (28 cm) and have a wing span of 24 in (61 cm)
  • These owls generally live up to 9 years of age in the wild, and up to 10 years under human care
  • Over two-thirds of juvenile Burrowing Owls do not make it to adulthood
  • It is estimated there are around 10,000 breeding pairs of Burrowing Owls throughout the Americas
  • Burrowing Owls are not nocturnal like most other owls, but rather are diurnal and active throughout the day
  • Owls eyes are fixed in their skulls, meaning they can not rotate them, but rather can rotate their heads 270 degrees
  • Owl eyes are extremely large, taking up much room in their skulls, and are evolved to have excellent night vision, gathering light from stars and the moon
  • Owls also have specially adapted feathers that allow them to fly silently
  • Burrowing owls generally hunt rodents, insects, small birds, amphibians, and even some subspecies eat fruit
  • Burrowing owls can mimic the rattle of a rattlesnake to scare off any intruders to their burrows

Conservation Tip

There are many ways you can help owls, wherever you live. You can build a nest box for them. You can turn off all your outside lights at night, helping them hunt better, and is more energy efficient. Also, never use rat poison or any other type of rodent poison, as owls can eat a poisoned rodent and die.

Organizations to Support

Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife

Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife

Burrowing Owl Conservation of BC

Videos

Burrowing Owl Sounds

Burrowing Owl Cam Video

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