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Burrowing Owl
Athene cunicularia



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae

Physical Characteristics

About 8-10.5 in. long. Long legs, short tail, and no ear tuffs (Cassidy, 1990). Adult brown, spotted, and barred (Scott, 1983). Eyes yellow, with two white eyebrow marks (Bologna, 1978). Juvenile buffy and unbarred (Scott, 1983).


Found in grasslands and deserts (Cassidy, 1990) and in prairies, plains, and savannas (American Ornithologists' Union, 1983). The Burrowing Owl is often found in open country in urban areas, including golf courses, road cuts, and airports (Scott, 1983).

Geographic Range

Athene cunicularia is resident from southern interior British Columbia south through eastern Washington, central Oregon to California, thence east to western Minnesota, western Missouri, Oklahoma, eastern Texas and Louisiana, and south to central Mexico (American Ornithologists' Union, 1983).


Diet consists of large insects, small mammals (mainly rodents), and birds (Bologna, 1978).

Reproductive Characteristics

The Burrowing Owl nests in abandoned dens of prairie dogs, ground squirrels, or other burrowing mammals (Bologna, 1978). Nests in single pairs, or more commonly in small colonies (Scott, 1978). The female lays 5-11 eggs, which are white, but quickly become stained by the soil (Cassidy, 1990). Incubation lasts for 3-4 weeks, and is done by both parents (Bologna, 1978).


The Burrowing Owl is a ground-dwelling bird, with both diurnal and nocturnal (day and night) habits (Bologna, 1978). Calls include a soft coo-cooo, and when disturbed in its nest, the Burrowing Owl gives off an alarm call that imitates a rattle snake (Scott, 1983). The Burrowing Owl returns to the same nest year after year, remodeling them annually with their beaks, legs, and wings (Cassidy, 1990).

Literature Cited

American Ornithologists' Union. 1983. Checklist of North American birds, 6th edition. Allen Press, Lawrence, 877 pp.

Bologna, G. 1978. Simon and Schuster guide to birds of the world. Simon and Schuster, New York, 511 pp.

Cassidy, J., ed. 1990. Book of North American birds. Reader's Digest, New York, 576 pp.

Scott, S. L. 1983. Field guide to birds of North America, 2nd edition. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., 464 pp.

Lorraine Bueno, July 1995.


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