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.  

Adoptive "Parents" of Ra: 

Bill and Nan May  •  Sarafina Adee  •  Steve & Cheridee Ulibarri  •  Hollie Pitts  •  Kate Tidrick 
Clyde & Carol Jo Horn  •  Nicolai & Zachary DeFreest  •  Hannah & Nathan Rosenfeld  •  Bear Pitts
John Foster  •  Dave & Dorothy Soper  •  Keri Yunc  •  JJ Johansson  • Melanie Ferstman  
Mary Walsh  •  David Greisen  •   Marcia Hall  •  The Ryan Family  •  John & Paula Swanson  
Jordan Hammel  •  Fern Frazier  •  Harrison-Watt Family  •  Ruby Ellis & Family  •  Barbara Combs  
Nowell King & Erik Fisher  •  Stephanie Chlebowski  •  Laurel Stiedemann   •  Tyler Porter
Wendy Mericle & Henry Koehler  •  Sandra Weingarten & Ryan Darwish     
In Memory of Vicki Barker - her love of animals knew no bounds • The Glock Family


Scientific Name

Athene cunicularia


Length: 9-11"

Wing Span: 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.

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