The Burrowing Owl and Its Unusual Habitat
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The Burrowing Owl and Its Unusual Habitat

Some owls nest in trees, but the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) does its nesting underground. A lot of owls spend most of their time in the forests, but the burrowing owl is home on the flatlands.

Owls are creatures of mystery and beauty. But the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) is considered a comical character, having an everlasting quizzical appearance on its face. It bears bright yellow eyes, striking white eyebrows, and long featherless legs. 

Some owls nest in trees, but the burrowing owl does its nesting underground. A lot of owls spend most of their time in the forests, but the burrowing owl is home on the flatlands. And while some owls live a lonesome existence, this one loves company and, as long as a dependable food supply is ready, lives in pocket-size colonies with others of its kind.

The burrowing owl is slightly larger than a robin and weighs in at about six ounces. It is among the smallest raptors. But it makes up for its petite size with lots of attitude. While the typical owl is rather secretive, you can go up a burrowing owl without it fleeing away. Upright atop a mound close the entry to its burrow, the owl will pivot its head to look out as you begin to get closer — its eyes can not move like ours do - and, as it gets agitated, it will start to bob up and down. That's a signal you have gotten a little too close.

When the burrowing owl senses threat, aside from its distinguishing bobbing motion, it will ruffle up its feathers to look larger. Both the male and female burrowing owls could try to chase off trespassers. As a final resort, the owl, rather than flying away, will go down into its hole for safety.

Capable of digging a nest with the use of its bill and talons, the burrowing owl virtually always captures another animal's deserted hole and executes a home make over. It will utilize the former homes of prairie dogs, ground squirrels, badgers, and, in Florida, the burrows dug by tortoises and armadillos are also a favorite. The completed burrows can measure up to 8 feet long, with the real nest area as deep as 3 feet underground. Every nest burrow will have at the least one turn, and there's constantly a mound of dirt at the entryway to function as a lookout post.

image via Wikipedia

The burrowing owl is much easier to spot than other owls, not only since it lives out in the open, but because it's more active on daylight hours. Trees are rarely part of its home ground, so it loves to sit on fence posts or other elevated area while looking on for flying insects or small scuttling rodents. This owl utilizes an assortment of hunting techniques: chasing and running grasshoppers and beetles over the ground, swooping downward from a perch as it spots moving target, or even getting large insects in flight. Different from other owls, the burrowing owl also would eat fruit and seeds.

As many digging creatures (ground squirrels, prairie dogs, etc.) are regarded pests and efforts have been made to eradicate them, fewer nesting places stay on for burrowing owls to use. And because the owls require comparatively flat land as a living area (about an acre per owl), they're frequently forced to contend with others needing the same environment — housing developers and farmers.

Luckily, they're moderately patient of the presence of persons. Burrowing owls have turned out to be more difficult to find, but it is worth the effort. Among the ways we locate them is by gradually driving little-used roads through and through agricultural areas where irrigation canals surround the pavement. The owls occasionally nest in holes in the canal walls and utilize the top of the wall as a lookout.

Up until 1975, burrowing owls were quite commonly seen in many states on the western side of Mississippi Valley, California, and in Canada. In the last decades, beginning in the 1980s, a steady decline in the number of burrowing owls has been observed. This is mainly due to the continuous loss of their habitat brought about by urban and agricultural developments especially in flat land areas.

With the loss of habitat, these owls have been trying to adapt to whatever available areas they could find. Nowadays, one may be lucky enough to find a burrowing owl. Some have seen them nesting in irrigation canal walls, and abandoned pipes.

A burrowing owl makes a home out of a piece of buried pipe. Photo by User:Mr Snrub.

image via Wikipedia

References:

Birds of the World by Jason A. Mobley

Bizarre Birds by Jonathan P. Latimer and Karen Stray Nolting

Owls of the United States and Canada By Wayne Lynch

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Comments (2)

Beautiful! What a wonderful bird, thank you for teaching me.

I saw these beautiful creatures for the first time in Florida. From a distance, I thought they were some type of prairie dog, and that is when I learned that it was an owl that lived underground. I am not sure if they are one and the same, but Floridians call them "Ground Owls." Regardless of the name, this is just another beautiful creature that humans are eradicating.

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