10 Facts About Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia)
Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) will mostly take over previously-established burrows by hole-digging animals, including ground squirrels, badgers, and foxes (amongst others).
Burrowing Owls love open fields with low native vegetation (like sparse shrublands) - this type of habitat makes it easier for them to hunt for food. In fact, Burrowing Owls usually only hunt prey within a one-mile radius of their designated burrows.
While hunting, Burrowing Owls will typically wait upon a perch and, once their prey is targeted, swoop in for the kill!
The diet of Burrowing Owls consists of insects, small rodents, small birds, and even some amphibians.
Burrowing Owls tend to return to their same burrows every year.
Other than a slight distinction in size, behavior and color, there really is no definite way to tell the difference between male and female Burrowing Owls, without conducting a DNA test.
One of the main threats to Burrowing Owls arise from increasing losses of habitats due to development, along with the eradication of ground squirrels (the loss of squirrels equals the loss of burrows).
The nesting season for Burrowing Owls typically begins in late March or early April. The female Owls are capable of laying up to 14 eggs and ocassionally, male wwls will have more than one mating partner!
The Burrowing Owl chicks hang around their burrows for up to three months after they hatch. Although most will hatch, only four or five will survive.
The average life span for a Burrowing Owl is ten years.
Burrowing owls checking out the human visitors near their nesting burrows.
Saving Burrowing Owls in Southern California
Burrowing Owls have long been harmed by human activities - typically relating to urban development - that ultimately eliminate their habitats. But in one case, there was a concerted effort to destroy a particular Burrowing Owl colony directly in San Diego County.
The City of San Diego proposed in 2012 to redevelop and expand the Brown Field Municipal Airport which contains a significant amount of habitat for "a large and growing" Burrowing Owl colony.
During a period of observation of the colony present, the burrows near a helipad were filled with liquid toxins, then plugged with gravel.
A report filed on 12/17/2012 by the Coalition for a Safe Environment suggested that, "... there may have been an intentional effort on the part of the airport management to not disclose this information [about the Burrowing Owls] to the public and governmental regulatory agencies, so as not to delay or stop any proposed current airport redevelopment project."
In order to protect the owls and the surrounding vernal pools, we joined other environmental organizations and filed a lawsuit in 2013.
We won a settlement that prioritized the protection of the Burrowing Owl colony and nearby vernal pools, along with a reduction in Brown Field Municipal Airport's carbon footprint.
For further information about Burrowing Owls and their status in general, you can read the petition we filed in 2003 with the California Fish and Wildlife Commission in our attempt to designate the Burrowing Owl as an Endangered Species in the state of California. The petition was rejected despite strong scientific support.
Another good resource on the Western Burrowing Owl is the status report conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
Breeding distribution of the Burrowing Owl in the United States and Canada, derived from Breeding Bird Survey Data, 1985-1991. Scale represents the average number of individuals observed per route, per year. The El Centro area in southeastern California remains the Burrowing Owl's last stronghold. (Map from Price, Droege and Price, 1995. The Summer Atlas of North American Birds.)