The burrowing owl is a small, ground-dwelling bird that is highly visible to humans. This brown, long-legged owl can frequently be seen in the daytime bobbing up and down while perched on a fence post or the mound of a prairie dog burrow. Contrary to what their name implies, these little owls do not dig their own burrows, but will instead use an abandoned rodent burrow, usually from a prairie dog.
Burrowing owls are small, about nine inches in height with a short tail and long legs. It has yellow eyes, no ear tufts and its face is framed in white with a black collar. Its call is a mellow coo-cooooo, repeated twice and also a cackling.
Range: The owls breed from Canada’s southern prairie provinces south throughout western United States to southern California and Texas. Burrowing owls are resident in central and southern Florida. In Colorado, burrowing owls are a migratory species, and can be found almost anywhere there are prairie dog burrows from late March or early April through October. During winter, Colorado owls migrate to Mexico and Central America.
Habitat: Burrowing owls are primarily found in grasslands and mountain parks, usually in or near prairie dog towns. The burrowing owl also uses well-drained, steppes, deserts, prairies and agricultural lands.
Diet: Burrowing owl food includes rodents, small birds, eggs, nestlings, reptiles and insects. They will hunt for food anytime, day or night.
Reproduction: The owls sometimes nest in colonies within a prairie dog town. The female will lay from six to 11 eggs, with an average clutch of seven to nine eggs. Both adults incubate the eggs and care for the young. The young owlets are usually moved to a new burrow two to four weeks after they appear above ground. If they become distressed, the will often mimic the sound of a rattlesnake. Families will remain together into September.
Endangered status: The burrowing owl is listed as threatened in Colorado. Habitat has been lost to housing, suburban development and agriculture activities along the Front Range. There is also concern about the loss of burrowing owl habitat in areas where sylvatic plague occurs in prairie dog colonies. If prairie dogs are absent, burrowing owls will eventually collapse for lack of homes.
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