Western Burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia hypugea)
The Burrowing Owl is small ground-dwelling diurnal owl with several distinctive features including its bright yellow eyes, long legs and characteristic bobbing behavior when disturbed. Burrowing Owls range in length from 19-25 cm and have brown and buffy-white spotted feathers with a buffy-white eyebrow. Males are slightly larger than females. Juveniles are distinguishable from adults by their solid buff colored breast and wings (Poulin et al. 2011).
- Dechant, J. A., M. L. Sondreal, D. H. Johnson, L. D. Igl, C. M. Goldade, P. A. Rabie, and B. R. Euliss. 1999 (revised 2002). Effects of management practices on grassland birds: Burrowing owl. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, Jamestown, ND. 33 pages.
- Martin, D.J. 1973. Selected Aspects of Burrowing owl Ecology and Behavior. The Condor 75(4): 446-456.
- Poulin, Ray, L. Danielle Todd, E. A. Haug, B. A. Millsap and M. S. Martell. 2011. Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/061
- Smallwood, S.K. and C. Thelander. 2008. Bird Mortality in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area. The Journal of Wildlife Management 72(1): 215-223.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS ). 2002. Raptors: Diurnal and Nocturnal Birds of Prey. Fact Sheet. Web. 06 August 2011.
- States/US Territories in which the Western Burrowing owl, Wherever found is known to or is believed to occur: Colorado
- US Counties in which the Western Burrowing owl, Wherever found is known to or is believed to occur: View All
- Countries in which the the Western Burrowing owl, Wherever found is known to occur: Canada, Mexico
- Additional species information
|Status||Date Listed||Lead Region||Where Listed|
|Pacific Region (Region 1)||Wherever found|
» Federal Register Documents
No recovery information is available for the Western Burrowing owl.
» Critical Habitat
No critical habitat rules have been published for the Western Burrowing owl.
» Conservation Plans
|CCA Plan Summaries|
|Spring Mountains National Recreation Area|
|CCAA Plan Summaries|
|4W Ranch, Harshbarger|
» Life History
Burrowing Owls prefer habitats within deserts, grasslands, and shrub-steppe, and utilize well-drained, level to gently sloping areas characterized by sparse vegetation and bare ground such as moderately or heavily grazed pasture. They prefer short grass for nesting, but will forage over areas of tall vegetation (Dechant et al. 1999, revised 2002, p. 3). However, there is evidence that vegetation over 3.3 ft may be too tall for Burrowing Owls to locate prey. Types of foraging areas include cropland, pasture, prairie dog colonies, fallow fields, and sparsely vegetated areas (Dechant et al. 1999, revised 2002, p. 7). Burrowing Owls have been found in active prairie dog burrows, and are more likely to demonstrate increase survival and decreased predation at large, well-populated active prairie dog sites than smaller, inactive sites (Dechant et al. 1999, revised 2002, p. 5). Burrowing Owls also regularly utilize developed areas such as agricultural fields, golf courses, cemeteries, road allowances, airports, vacant urban lots, and fairgrounds (Poulin et al. 2011).
Burrowing Owls prey on arthropods and small mammals (Dechant et al. 1999, revised 2002, p. 6). Highest periods of foraging for Burrowing Owls occur just after sunset and just before sunrise. Burrowing Owls may perch or fly low along the ground to spot prey. Burrowing Owls may also hover 33-98 ft off the ground as a foraging approach, but also demonstrate typical raptor-type attacks when capturing prey (Martin 1973).
Movement / Home Range
The Burrowing Owl’s breeding range extends through most of the western United States from the eastern parts of California, Washington and Oregon through to the western edge of Minnesota and down into northern Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and western Oklahoma. The year-round range extends primarily through southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and into northern Mexico. Burrowing Owls may also occur year-round in Florida and areas of the Caribbean. The Burrowing Owl wintering range extends from northern Mexico down into South America (Poulin et al. 2011). Burrowing Owls are migratory; however some Burrowing Owls have been known to winter on their breeding grounds (Dechant et al. 1999, revised 2002, p. 9; Poulin et al. 2011). In the Northern Great Plains, Burrowing Owls begin fall migration in late August and migrate through mid-October, showing a southern migration route through Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma (Poulin et al. 2011).
Egg laying for Burrowing Owls begins in late-April and extends to early/mid-May. Burrowing Owls nest underground and commonly use black-tailed prairie dog and Richardson’s ground squirrel burrows for their nesting sites. However, they have been known to use burrows created by other kinds of prairie dogs, squirrels and other burrowing animals as their nest sites in the absence of these species (Dechant et al. 1999, revised 2002, p. 3). Burrows are often selected in areas where there are a high density of burrows and are often surrounded by bare ground or very low and sparse vegetation. Nests usually contain one clutch per nest, but the female may re-nest if the first clutch is destroyed early in the breeding season. Young are born altricial, but can walk to occupy nearby burrows by two weeks of age. In non-migratory populations, nests are utilized and maintained throughout the year. It has been observed that many migratory Burrowing Owls return to the same burrows in subsequent years (Poulin et al. 2011).
The primary reasons for the decline of Burrowing Owls have been identified as the elimination of burrowing mammals through control programs and habitat loss (USFWS 2002). Concerns with wind development and Burrowing Owls include habitat destruction and fragmentation (Dechant et al. 1999, revised 2002, p. 9). Collision with wind turbines is also a potential risk for this species as demonstrated by the mass mortality at the Altamont Pass facility (Smallwood and Thelander 2008).
» Other Resources
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