Burrowing Owl

Athene cunicularia
Prepared by: 
Ann Walton
  • Length: 8-11 inches
  • Wingspan: 23 inches
  • Weight: Male, 130-185 grams, Female, 120-250 grams

Male and female similarly colored.  A small, round-headed, long-legged, diurnal owl with oval facial ruff and buff-white eyebrows.  Upper parts are warm brown with crown, back, and scapulars spotted buff. The long, rounded wings have buff barring on their primaries.  

The under parts are buff-white with brown barring. Throat is white; tail is short. Juvenile is buffy, and unspotted below. Perches erectly on ground near nesting burrow, or on low post.  

Subspecies: 
19 Recognized; 2 in U.S., floridana being the Florida resident
Distribution: 
From southern Canada and western U.S. to Central America as far as El Salvador; Florida through the Caribbean and South America to Tierra del Fuego.
Habitat: 
Dry, open areas, such as treeless plains, grassland, prairies, deserts, farmland, golf courses, airports, cemeteries, vacant lots, campuses, etc., from sea level to 4500 meters. Except for Florida, associates with burrowing animals, a habitat requirement for nesting. In Florida, they excavate their own nests.
Feeding: 
Primarily arthropods and small mammals; also amphibians and reptiles, especially in Florida. Hunts in many styles, depending upon type of prey: walking, hopping, running along ground, flying from perch, hovering over tall vegetation, and flycatching in air.
Breeding: 
March – August. Nests in burrows, either singly or colonially. Uses vacated burrows of other animals, except in Florida, where they excavate their own. Clutch size is 6-11 eggs.
Movements: 
U.S. and Canada populations seem to migrate south or disperse (routes and times unknown). The populations in California, Florida and south are essentially sedentary.
Status: 
Not globally threatened. Still relatively numerous in parts of U.S., but declining seriously in some areas (Florida is one area of concern) where there is intensive cultivation of grasslands and native prairies.
Note: 
When threatened in burrow will imitate sound of rattlesnake!