Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl


From Canada down to South America and the Caribbean.


Open country: prairies, deserts, farms; also found close to civilization.


Roundish head with no ear tufts; yellow eyes; short bulbous beak. The legs are long and slender and covered with sparse feathers. The short hair-like feathers on the legs terminate in sparse bristles on the feet. The wings are long with the outer three primaries notched. The tail is very short and square. The plumage is pale to chocolate-brown, streaked and spotted with white on the back, the wings and tail barred with white. The breast and underparts are white to buff, spotted or barred with brown. The eyebrows and below the beak are white. Juvenile coloration is similar to the adult but not as heavily spotted.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing owls are very active. When perched, they may bob up and down in a series of bows or occasionally flip into the air. They are the only small owls which habitually perch on the ground. They have become so terrestrial that they are practically flightless and will often run or flatten themselves against the ground, rather than fly, when disturbed. They are largely diurnal or crepuscular in hunting activity. They will hunt from an observation point, or will hover in the air close to the ground, pouncing on the prey, burying talons in the back and pecking viciously at the neck. Burrowing owls also catch insects in flight. They often live in permanent pair bonds, sleeping in underground burrows, sometimes with several pairs in the same area. Burrowing owls used to breed in colonies, but these have largely disappeared in recent years. Now only in suitable terrain, where food is abundant, will there be ten or more pairs in a 2-3 acre site.


Courtship begins in April with the pair sitting together, rubbing heads and issuing soft cooing sounds. Nesting begins in May, with brood sites being abandoned holes of prairie dogs, badgers, skunks, and armadillos. In North America prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, and owls have been found in the same burrow. Nest may be lined with grasses, dry cow dung or horse dung. The odor from the dung helps protect eggs from predators. They may enlarge the tunnel or dig their own if necessary, and if the ground is soft. The clutch has 5-9 glossy, white eggs, which both parents incubate for approximately one month. Food is brought by both parents until the young are fully fledged, usually sometime in July. Young are often found out of the burrow but near it, awaiting the parents' return with food. They are sexually mature at one year.

Interesting Facts:

Also known as "Billy Owl" or "Ground Owl". Found in all parts of Utah (migratory in northern part of range, leaving Utah in November and returning in April).

The burrowing owl is endangered in Canada, threatened in Mexico, and a species of special concern in Florida and most of the western USA. It is a state-endangered species in Colorado. Burrowing owls are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
Did YOU Know?    
The Burrowing Owl collects mammal dung and puts it in and around its burrow. The dung attracts dung beetles, which the owl then captures and eats.
Burrowing Owl
Native Utah Animal
Class: birds
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
Genus: Speotyto
Species: cunicularia
Length: wingspan of 24 inches
Height: 9-11 inches
Weight: 6-7 ounces
Average Lifespan: 6 years
Wild Diet: Mainly large insects, some small rodents, reptiles, amphibians and other birds.
Predators: Man, due to encroachment on habitat (plowing destroys burrows) and shooting. Eggs and young birds are vulnerable to skunks, opossums and snakes.
USFWS Status: Not Listed
CITES Status: Appendix II
Where at the Zoo? Small Animal Building: Desert Zone

Learn more about birds or animals from North America!
Or, cross-reference the two!