Owls of Iowa: Burrowing owl

The burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) is certainly an independent creatures amidst Iowa's other eight owl species. It looks like an owl, but it acts a bit different than others that we have addressed in our Owls of Iowa series.

Here are some interesting facts about the burrowing owl:

burrowing owl by a burrow

It does indeed burrow.

We expect owls to be found in trees, but the burrowing owl lives in underground burrows that it digs or takes over from ground squirrels or tortoises. In Iowa, they also use badger holes. They like open habitats where they hunt for insects and rodents. Sometimes an owl will put animal dung at the entrance to its burrow, drawing in beetles and other insects that it will then eat.

They actually survive well underground because they have a high tolerance for carbon dioxide, which they expel as they exhale and can build up in their underground burrows.

Burrows are for babies.

Burrowing owls use burrows as nesting places. As adults, in between hunting, they may not sleep inside the burrow but at the entrance or on depressions in the ground.

It is diurnal.

Most owls are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night, but burrowing owls --- like snowy owls --- are diurnal and hunt during the day.

They have different coloring.

Burrowing owls have a wide range through North and South America, with many subspecies. They are all about mid-way between the size of a robin and crow, growing to about 5 ounces and 7.5-10 inches in length, but they have different coloring dependent on where they live. The subspecies that lives in Florida and the Caribbean is on the smaller side and has more white spots than those in the western U.S.

They coo and chirp.

A male burrowing owl's call sounds like coo-coo, and they also have a chirping call when chatting.

burrowing owl

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