Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)

Burrowing Owl

[order] STRIGIFORMES | [family] Strigidae | [latin] Athene cunicularia | [authority] Molina, 1782 | [UK] Burrowing Owl | [FR] Cheveche des terriers | [DE] Kaninchenkauz | [ES] Mochuelo de Madriguera | [NL] Holenuil


Monotypic species


Athene is a genus of owls, containing two to four living species, depending on classification. These birds are small, with brown and white speckles, yellow eyes, and white eyebrows. This genus is found on all continents except for Australia, Antarctica, and Subsaharan Africa.

Physical charateristics

A small owl of open country, often seen by day standing erect on the ground or on posts. Note the long legs
(for an owl). About the size of a Screech-Owl; barred and spotted, with a white chin stripe, round head, and stubby tail. Bobs and bows when agitated.

Listen to the sound of Burrowing Owl

[audio:http://www.planetofbirds.com/MASTER/STRIGIFORMES/Strigidae/sounds/Burrowing Owl.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 0 cm wingspan max.: 0 cm
size min.: 19 cm size max.: 25 cm
incubation min.: 28 days incubation max.: 30 days
fledging min.: 42 days fledging max.: 46 days
broods: 0   eggs min.: 6  
      eggs max.: 11  


North America, Latin America : widespread


Open grassland, prairies, farmland, airfields. Favors areas of flat open ground with very short grass or bare soil. Prairie dog towns o
nce furnished much ideal habitat in West, but these are now scarce, and the owls are found on airports, golf courses, vacant lots, industrial parks, other open areas.


In courtship, male feeds female; members of pair nibble at each other’s bills and feathers.
Nest: Site is in burrow in ground, in area surrounded by bare soil or short grass. Florida birds usually dig their own burrows, but those in West usually use old burrow left by p
rairie dogs, ground squirrels, kangaroo rats, armadillos, or other animals. May line burrow entrance and nest chamber with cow manure, but no real nest built.
Clutch 3 -12; typically 7 -10 in West, 4 -6 in Florida. Eggs white. Incubation by female only, 28 –
30 days; male brings food for female during incubation.
Young: Female remains with young most of time at first; male brings food, and female feeds it to young. After 1 -2 weeks, female hunts also. Young may leave nest at about 6 weeks, but not capable of stron
g flight at first. 1 brood per year, sometimes 2 in Florida.

Feeding habits

Mostly insects and small mammals.
In summer in many areas, eats mostly large insects, including grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars; also scorpions, centipedes. For much of year, may eat mostly voles, mice, ground squirrels, some small birds. May eat many frogs, toads, lizards, and snake
s, especially in Florida.
Behavior: Hunts mostly at dusk and at night, but also by day during breeding season. Hunts by swooping down from a perch, hovering over fields, or running along ground, then clutching prey in its talons. May catch flying insects in the air.

Video Burrowing Owl


copyright: Don DesJardin


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Burrowing Owl status Least Concern


Birds in Florida and parts of Southwest may be permanent residents, but northern birds migrate south, some reaching southern Mexico and Central America. Strays sometimes have wandered north from Florida or east from the Great Plains.

Distribution map

Burrowing Owl distribution range map

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