Burrowing Owl - Illustration by Bill Singleton

Burrowing Owl
Athenes cuniculara


The burrowing owl is a small owl, measuring 7.5 to 10 inches tall, with long legs suitable for running or walking.1 The owl has brown upper parts with white spotting on the back, wings, and head.2 The chest is white with dark barring, fading to spotting on the belly. The owls have a white chin stripe followed by a black neck stripe.3 The eyes and beak are yellow.

Habitat: Burrowing owls are associated with burrowing animals.3 The owl breeds in grasslands, prairies, and open areas of human disturbance, such as golf courses, cemeteries, and airports.4

Range: Historically, the owl ranged in Canada, the United States west of the Mississippi River, and Mexico.4 Currently, the range is much the same, though habitat in many areas has been reduced. This species is migratory throughout most of its range, breeding in North America and wintering south of the border in Mexico south to Guatemala and El Salvador.

Diet: The owl feeds on insects, small rodents, lizards, and birds.

Reproduction: The burrowing owl breeds March through July. The owl nests in a burrow made by prairie dogs, gophers, squirrels, foxes, turtles, or other burrowing animals. The burrow is lined with cow chips, horse dung, grasses, and feathers. The owl can lay up to eleven eggs, but a brood of three to six is more common. The eggs are incubated for about twenty-eight days. The young owlets fledge after forty-two days, usually in September.4

The mortality rate for the owl is high due to predators, starvation, and parasites. The mortality rate for juvenile owls is seventy percent and nineteen percent for adults. The overall mortality rate for the species is thirty-five percent.4

Status: The burrowing owl is listed as a migratory bird under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This species is declining throughout its range.4 Human efforts to control squirrels and prairie dogs have resulted in owl poisoning and nest site loss. Beneficial management practices include limiting habitat disturbance and allowing controlled livestock grazing.4

Burrowing owl in Pima County: This bird is rare in Pima County. The majority of known active burrows in the Tucson area are on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and the Santa Cruz River floodplain.



1. Kielder Water Bird of Prey Centre. "Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)." 12/14/99 Web site: http://www.discoverit.co.uk/falconry/burrow.htm

2. Patuxent Bird Identification Center. "Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia." 12/14/99
Web site: http://www.mbr pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/Idtips/h3780id.html

3. The Raptor Center. "Burrowing Owl." 12/14/99 Web site: http://www.raptor.cvm.umn.edu/newwebdev/raptor/rfacts/burrow.html

4. New Mexico Game and Fish. "Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia hypugaea)." BISON-M Taxonomy.

back to Priority Vulnerable Species Fact Sheets