Burrowing Owl photo by Brian Lanker

Burrowing Owl

A small, sandy-brown ground owl with long legs and a short tail. Head is speckled, with white eyebrows; dark collar on white throat; back is spotted and underside is barred. Flight is labored and undulating, usually close to the ground; frequently hovers. Often seen in the daytime, standing on open ground or near mounded burrow entrance. Frequently bobs up and down. No major coloration difference between the sexes, as with most raptors, but unlike other birds of prey, there is not much size difference between males and females.

 

Meet our resident Burrowing Owls:

Ra came to the Raptor Center in late 2015 when his previous facility closed. He had been found hit by a car in 2011 on the Yakima Indian reservation in Washington and suffered a fractured left coracoid (an important bone in the shoulder joint) and some damage to his right eye.  He flies quite well, considering, and was even used in flight programs. Because Burrowing Owls are primarily sight hunters – they are active as often during the day as at night – a vision deficit can be a substantial handicap. We do not actually know if ‘he’ is a male, as Burrowing Owls are fairly unique among raptors as males and females are the same size and their plumage is the same. However, Ra does give a greeting HOOT to his handlers that staff believes to be at the lower pitch that demonstrates Ra is a male.  Ra is part of the outreach team.

Adoptive "Parents" of Ra: 

Pat & Hap Ehm  •  Andrea Halliday  •  Rosemary Turunc
Marie & Tom Gundy  •  Alice Rogan & Hedy Rutman 
Corinna Adee  •  Jenner Whitt  •  GRIT  
Danika Barber  •  Sonette & Juan Lias  •  Betty Sparks 
Carol Jo Horn  •  Ruth E Osborn  •  Linda Collins
Kimberly Ferguson– in memory of James Wilson "Chef Ra"
Aiden Jefferson  •  Sarah Winter  •  Hannah & Nate Rosenfeld
Bill and Nan May  •  Weston Charbonneau  •  Althea McCann
Sandra Weingarten  •  Justin Evans-Vidal & Odd-eyes Gaming
Adeline Cox  •  Ann Carney  •  The Davini Family  •  Henry Betz
Rich and Tracey Adney •  Sean Hillmeyer  •  Ronan Gipson
River Harris & Shania McKean  •  Hailey Varner  •  John Foster
Alexander Gaspar  •  Kristiina Birr  •  Summer Price
Carol Watt & Richard Harrison  •  Pauline Hitch
The Ryan Family  •  Mountain Rose Herbs  •  Yvonne Mock
Kiran & Suryan Parthasarathy

Notes

Scientific Name

Athene cunicularia

Size

Length: 9-11"

Wing Span: 20-24"

Weight: 4.2-6.5 oz.

Status

Listed as a "species of special concern" in several states, including Oregon. Considered extirpated (wiped out) in the Willamette Valley.

Habitat

These ground dwelling owls keep to open country -- grassland and desert. Most often associated with prairie dog or ground squirrel colonies, taking over abandoned burrows of these rodents or of badger, skunk, or fox, extending them by digging with their beak and kicking out loose soil with their feet.

Diet

Hunt mostly in the early evening and into the night, but also by day. Their varied diet consists primarily of insects and small mammals, but they also go after small birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Often hover hunt in twilight hours.

Call

Have a high, dove-like call of coo-coo-hoo or coo-hoo; a tremulous chattering when alarmed; young owls are known for their 'rattlesnake rasp' warning call, which seems to mimic the sound of a rattlesnake.

Nesting

During breeding season, they live in loose colonies surrounded by bare ground or short grass. When not disturbed, those in nonmigrating populations will use the same burrow year after year.

Most Common Problems

As with all owls, the most common cause of injury is collision with vehicles. Also tangling in fences. Rodent poisoning campaigns and habitat destruction is common in ranchlands, where prairie dogs and ground squirrels are considered pests because their networks of burrows may pose a risk of leg injury to livestock.

Range Map

Western U.S. down into Mexico, Florida, and some Caribbean Islands, and down into South America. Migrates over some of their range; in other areas they remain year round. The Burrowing Owl was wiped out in the Willamette Valley and is a species of 'special concern' in Oregon.

 

Special Thanks for range maps:

Dan Gleason
BGleason Design & Illustration
Commercial & Scientific Illustration, Graphic Design
CraneDance Communications
Book Production/Design