Wild Tracks

On behalf of the world's wild species

Eco Tuesday: Burrowing Owl Conservation

Do you know there are owls that live in the ground?

The Burrowing Owl is about 7 – 10 inches tall with a wingspan of 21 – 24 inches, and weighs 4 1/2 – 9 ounces. Unlike most owls, the male bird is slightly heavier and has a longer wingspan than the females.

Burrowing Owl by Pat Bumstead

This owl is found in dry, open areas with low vegetation such as grasslands, deserts, farmlands, rangelands, golf courses, and vacant lots in urban areas. They hunt while walking or running across the ground and by swooping down from a perch or hover, and they will catch insects from the air.

Young owlets have a remarkable defense mechanism. When threatened, they emit a noise that sounds just like a rattlesnake. Burrowing owls are known to “decorate” entrances to their nest burrow with manure from cows, horses, and/or dogs. Although the exact cause of this behavior is unknown, theories as to the reason include protecting the nest by masking the scent of the owls from potential predators, and attracting dung beetles and other insects to the burrow for an easy snack.

The greatest threat to burrowing owls is habitat destruction and degradation caused by land development and ground squirrel/prairie dog control measures. Despite their protected status, burrowing owls are often displaced and their burrows destroyed during the development process. Burrowing owls are also at risk of predation from coyotes, birds of prey, and feral cats and dogs.  Because of an increase in urban and suburban sprawl, hazards now include automobiles.

The Burrowing Owl Conservation Network advocates for the protection and restoration of the Western Burrowing Owl and promotes the preservation and careful management of habitat to prevent loss, foster healthy populations, and maintain intact natural communities for an ecologically sound future. Their ultimate aim is to reverse the current trend that is promoting extirpation of the Western Burrowing Owl.

Combining hands-on conservation efforts with advocacy and outreach, The Burrowing Owl Network educates individuals, garners land owner cooperation and support, installs artificial burrows, champions progressive burrowing owl and habitat management policies and laws.

Learn more about these appealing little owls, and read how you can help them on The Burrowing Owl Conservation Network website.

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