Owls that live in the ground.
Everybody knows that owls fly around at night and build nests in trees, right? Have you ever heard of an owl that hunts during the day and lives in a hole in the ground?
The burrowing owl is such an owl. They are called burrowing owls because they live in burrows in the ground. They do not do the burrowing themselves, however. They live in holes dug by animals like ground squirrels, badgers, prairie dogs, or desert tortoises. Burrowing owls live in much of western North America, from the prairies of Canada down through Mexico. There are also populations of burrowing owls in Florida and South America.
The burrows that the owls live in have several functions. Burrowing owls live in areas that are hot and dry. During the heat of the day, they stay in their burrows. The temperatures are cooler there than out in the open air.
Burrowing owls lay their eggs and raise their young in their burrows. The nesting season for burrowing owls in North America is from April to July. In some areas, eggs will be laid before and after these dates. The female burrowing owl lays between three and twelve eggs. She sits on the eggs for about a month, while the male owl hunts and brings her food in their burrow.
The baby owls stay with their parents for about six weeks. Then they leave the burrow to live on their own. This process is called fledging. Before they fledge, young burrowing owls learn to fly and hunt insects and rodents. They also learn how to avoid predators that might want to eat them, like hawks and other large owl species.
Burrowing owls like to live in open areas. These are the same places where people like to build houses, shopping malls, golf courses, and farms. Unfortunately, burrowing owl populations are declining in many parts of their range. Sometimes people build artificial burrows for the burrowing owls to live in. Hopefully, ways can be found to provide enough space for both people and burrowing owls.
photographs by David Magney