The burrowing owl prefers
to summer in prairie dog colonies, using the burrows as nesting locations.
Farmers and ranchers often dislike prairie dog colonies, fearing the honeycombs
of holes and burrows pose a threat to livestock grazing in the area.
Prairie dog extermination efforts have had a major impact on Burrowing Owl
populations. Note the photo on the right depicts a young first summer
bird. Additional photos, including adult birds, can be found through the
links on the bottom of the page.
Habitat: Grassland and rangeland, farmland, open
urban grassy areas such as airports, golf courses, and empty lots.
Diet: Mostly large insects and small mammals.
Occasionally will eat small birds, amphibians, and reptiles.
Behavior: May hunt by hovering over fields,
swooping down from a perch, or even running along the ground. They
will also fly out from perches to grab insects from mid-air. Most of
the hunting is done near sundown and at night, but they will also actively
feed during the day during the summer breeding season.
Nesting: May through July. The nest is in a burrow in
the ground, in barren areas or areas with sparse vegetation. Some birds
build their own burrows (particularly those in Florida), but many rely on
burrows built by other animals. The burrows may be 6-10 feet long, with a
nest chamber at the end. No nest is built, but sometimes the nest chamber
is lined with manure. The female usually lays between 4 and 10 eggs, and
she alone incubates them. The male brings food for the female during the
incubation period. Once the eggs hatch, the male feeds the family for a
time. After a week or two, the female also starts to hunt. The young
fledge after about 6 weeks
Song: Haunting cooo-hoooooo.
Migration: South Dakota populations migrate south in
the fall, moving as far as Mexico and Central America. Populations in the
southern U.S. are probably permanent residents.
Birdhouses: In an attempt to bolster populations,
artificial burrows have been placed in some locations. Burrowing Owls will
use these man-made burrows.
Conservation Status: Populations have been in decline. Burrowing Owls are
usually associated with colonies of prairie dogs or ground squirrels.
Prairie dog control practiced by many ranchers thus has the effect of lowering
burrowing owl populations.
Cornell University's "All About Birds - Burrowing Owl"
Photo Information: July 17th, 2004 -- On County
Line Road about 25 miles east of Highway 83 -- Terry Sohl
Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or
text links below for additional, higher-resolution Burrowing Owl photos.