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Burrowing Owl

Athene cunicularia

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19 - 28cm

51 - 61cm

140 - 240g

6 - 9 yrs

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The burrowing owl is a small owl found in grasslands and deserts across the Americas. True to their name, they live in burrows and - unlike most owls - become active during the day. They have developed long legs built for sprinting across open landscapes, although they can still fly when hunting.

Least Concern

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LC

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The head and upperparts are brown with white spotting, whilst the underparts are the opposite. They also have white eyebrow-like markings on the face as well as a band across chin, whereas the facial disc itself is rather squashed. Supposedly, the male plumage is lighter as they spend more time outside in the sun, thereby bleaching the feathers.

What Does it Look Like?

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What Does it Sound Like?

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Despite being capable of a wide variety of sounds, they are only somewhat vocal, with the two-note “cu-cuhooh” call of the male – which is often likened to a quail - being the most commonly heard. However, they are also capable of a harsh hissing designed to imitate the warning sound of a rattlesnake, which is generally used by the young to deter predators.

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They chase prey down on their long legs. Termites appear to be a favourite, along with other invertebrates such as crickets, beetles, millipedes and spiders. It will also catch small rodents such as the vesper mouse and occasionally feeds on geckos, frogs or birds. Notably, they also eat the fruits of various cacti, which is unusual for an owl.

What Does it Eat?

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Where Does it Nest?

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They tend to reuse the burrows of prairie dogs, but can also dig their own. The nest is then lined with readily available material such as cattle dung, which also attracts insects to eat. A clutch of 4-12 eggs is laid and incubated for 4 weeks, and after a further 4 weeks the chicks are able to fly a short distance and eventually leave the nest.

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They are known to breed in the southern tips of the US but are otherwise found broadly across Central and South America from Mexico through to Guatemala and then to Brazil, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. They prefer open, temperate grasslands, but also live in shrubland, savannah and semi-deserts, although they avoid venturing out in the midday heat.

Where Does it Live?

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What is its Status?

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Studies suggest their numbers are decreasing, but this reflects only the US figures, which are the minority. No official data exists for the South American population but, bizarrely, deforestation around the Amazon rainforest actually benefits burrowing owls due to the creation of open habitats. Similarly, they are also found increasingly on golf courses and at airports.

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