Burrowing Owl

Range Map
Athene cunicularia

The Burrowing Owl is resident in northern Mexico and the American Southwest. In spring, many will migrate north, even to Canada to breed, and some will travel to Mexico in winter. We list these birds as endangered in Canada. In Mexico, it is a Bird of Special Protection. Researchers believe loss of habitat and the decline of the prairie dog communities on which it depends for burrows, contributes to declining populations.

As a bird that spends much of its time underground, Burrowing Owls have developed some interesting coping mechanisms. One such trait is that it can tolerate higher concentrations of carbon dioxide than most animals. Another tactic is to store a larder of prey items in their burrows for lean times. Observers have noted these birds will sometimes leave dung and other fowl items at the entrance to their burrows to attract beetles and other insects, who then become meals for the owls.

Most of my meetings have been in southeastern California in Imperial County, especially near the Salton Sea. When I was very young, Burrowing Owls were a common sight in and around San Diego. Sadly, human development and careless pet owners have driven nearly every one of these birds from the county.

Today, science recognises twenty-five subspecies of Burrowing Owl, some are now extinct. Describing each of these would be unproductive in this venue. The two North American subspecies are:

  • A. c. hypugaea lives in Oregon east to Kansas, and British Columbia east to Saskatchewan, and south to Baja California, and through Mexico to Central America.
  • A. c. floridana lives in Florida.

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