Centennial Museum gecko logo

Desert Diary

Birds/Burrowing Owl


This page was designed with CSS, and looks best in a CSS-aware browser—which, unfortunately, yours is not. However, the document should still be readable, though not presented in the most sophisticated manner.

What has feathers, nests in underground burrows, and sounds like a rattlesnake? The answer is one of the more endearing birds of the Chihuahuan Desert—the Burrowing Owl. This medium-sized owl is quite at home on the ground and often is seen standing on its long legs next to its burrow. Open countryside, grassland to desert, from Canada to the southern parts of South America, is its home. Although most hunting is done during the twilight of dusk or dawn, it also may be on night-time or day patrol, looking for tasty insects—especially large beetles, small rodents—even such prey as frogs and small birds when opportunity knocks.

It often breeds in loose colonies of up to a dozen pairs. Nesting in the ground can be dangerous, but a predator or a curious human may be met at the entrance to an occupied burrow with a rattling hiss, pen and ink sounding much like the warning of a rattlesnake—a sure deterrent to deeper investigation.

Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

pair of burrowing owls

A pair of Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia). Photo by George Andrejko, Arizona Game and Fish Department.



Peterson, R. T. 1990. A field Guide to Western Birds, 3rd ed. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 432 pp.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. National Audubon Society The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 544 pp.

Web Resources

Centennial Museum Chihuahuan Desert pages.

The Owl Pages. Lots of information and pictures.