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Scientific Name: Athene cunicularia


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.

Length: 9-11″
Wingspan: 20-24″
Weight: 4.2-6.5 oz.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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