Already a subscriber? Sign in Don't have a subscription? Subscribe Now
Burrowing Owl
Athene cunicularia
Order
STRIGIFORMES
– Family
STRIGIDAE
Authors: Haug, E. A., B. A. Millsap, and M. S. Martell
Revisors: Poulin, Ray, and L. Danielle Todd

Welcome to the Birds of North America Online!

Welcome to BNA Online, the leading source of life history information for North American breeding birds. This free, courtesy preview is just the first of 14 articles that provide detailed life history information including Distribution, Migration, Habitat, Food Habits, Sounds, Behavior and Breeding. Written by acknowledged experts on each species, there is also a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

A subscription is needed to access the remaining articles for this and any other species. Subscription rates start as low as $5 USD for 30 days of complete access to the resource. To subscribe, please visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store.

If you are already a current subscriber, you will need to sign in with your login information to access BNA normally.

Subscriptions are available for as little as $5 for 30 days of full access! If you would like to subscribe to BNA Online, just visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store.

Introduction

Burrowing Owl, Cape Coral, FL, December.
Figure 1. Distribution in the Americas.

Charismatic and sometimes comical, the diminutive Burrowing Owl is an easily recognized icon of the grasslands and arid regions of western North America, Florida, and the Caribbean. Unique among North American owls, this species is active day and night, nests in underground burrows, and typically nests in small groups.

In the past half century, Burrowing Owl populations have declined sharply across much of the species’ range. The species is listed as Endangered in Canada, as a species with Special Protection in Mexico, and (although it has no [legal] federal status in the USA) it is “listed” in half of the 18 western states it still occupies. Although no one major factor has been implicated in the decline of this species, the cumulative effects of human activities have undoubtedly taken a major toll.

Historically in many parts of the west and south, this species depended on colonies of burrowing mammals such as prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) for nests sites; reduction of such colonies by agriculture has limited access to nest burrows and contributed to loss of Burrowing Owls in this region. Such colonies were sometimes large; Bent (1938) describes a Florida colony that (in the 1880s) was 3 miles (4.8 km) long and contained “several hundred” pairs of owls.

Strong local and governmental interest in this species has facilitated significant conservation efforts to maintain or revive populations, including reintroduction programs, the use of artificial nest burrows, habitat protection programs, and protective legislation.

Conservation concerns for this species served as a catalyst for three international Burrowing Owl symposia (1992, 1998, 2006), from which significant contributions have been made to our understanding of this owls’ natural history. The species has been studied broadly across its range in recent decades, with key studies from Brazil, Chile, Florida, Canada and many western US states on breeding biology, movement patterns, habitat use, pesticide loads, genetics, behavior, and diet.