Bird of the Week: Burrowing Owl
It's a cute little owl that lives underground and can imitate a rattlesnake! Ahhhhh!!!!!!
Our last Bird of the Week was a very large bird, so it’s only appropriate that this week we go teeny-tiny and say hi to a little bird that nevertheless makes a big impact. Meet….the BURROWING OWL.
Look at this bird! It’s an owl! Peeking out of the ground! Like a little bunny or something! But it’s a bird! And not just any bird! An owl! Wow.
I was alerted to the existence of the burrowing owl by MVP reader Trey Kreis. (Trey also recommended secretary birds, writing, “They look like they are wearing pants and they stomp on their prey,” which is frankly more brilliant as a pitch than about 75 percent of the pitches I’ve received in my time. The secretary bird is on my list, Trey!) One search proved to me that this was indeed a bird we had to feature. Let’s do another picture. Note the long legs and noble mien. Also: this bird usually tops out at around 10 inches tall!
Burrowing owls are, as the name implies, owls, but they are unlike most of the owls you’ve probably come across. For one, they do a lot of stuff during the day, whereas most owls are very night-oriented. For another, they don’t live in trees! They—wait for it—burrow into the ground. In fact, no other owl lives this way.
Some of them dig their own burrows, but others use the burrows of other animals, like prairie dogs or gophers or even armadillos. Here’s a picture of a burrowing owl’s nest hole.
Some other interesting facts about burrowing owls:
—You can find varieties of burrowing owls as far north as Canada and as far south as Tierra del Fuego. This bird gets around!
—They eat a very wide variety of things. Look at how long this Audubon list is:
In summer in many areas, eats mostly large insects, including grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, moths, caterpillars; also scorpions, centipedes, other arthropods. For much of year, may feed mostly on small mammals (such as voles, mice, ground squirrels), some small birds. May eat many frogs, toads, lizards, and snakes, perhaps especially in Florida.
This is not a picky animal.
—Cowboys would call them “howdy owls” or “howdy birds” because, as Craig Gibbs of the Wildlife Conservation Society wrote, “they would sit in front of their burrows and nod ‘howdy’ as the cattlemen rode by.” Here’s video of that:
—They learned to mimic the sound of rattlesnakes to ward off predators! Observe:
And here’s the real thing for comparison:
It’s quite close!
Sadly, the burrowing owl’s population is on the decline in many places, in large part because of—you guessed it—human activity. I feel like I say this often, but maybe we should get our shit together, so that wonderful creatures like the burrowing owl can survive??? Just a thought.
I will leave you with this great video of burrowing owls in which you hear them hooting, see them burrowing, watch them digging and flying, and a whole not more. It really gives you a sense of how these amazing birds live. Hooray!