Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl Life

Burrowing owls are not what you would expect when you think of the classic owl, swooping through trees on a dark October night. Burrowing owls live in grasslands or deserts in abandoned burrows. In the early morning, they may venture out of their burrows to warm themselves in the light. You are more likely to see them comically standing on top of small mounds at dawn or dusk than flying overhead at night.

Burrowing owls build their nests inside their burrows. Male birds are the main builders adding grass, cow manure (do the poor baby birds have a sense of smell?), and feathers to the side of the nest. After the seven to ten eggs hatch, the young birds learn to make a rattling sound like a rattlesnake when anyone disturbs the nest.

Burrowing owls are listed as threatened or endangered in almost all of the areas where they live. Plowing to create farmland has destroyed burrows. Pesticides make the owls sick and kill off their food supply. The owls' habit of hunting near roadsides has led to collisions with cars. Some concerned nature-lovers have begun constructing artifical burrows as an invitation to the owls to take up residence. Check out these instructions for making a burrow.

The Quest

I saw a burrowing owl while participating in a guided field trip to Central California's Carrizo Plains held by the Morro Bay Festival in January of 2002. The morning was bitterly cold and every blade of grass was iced white. One burrowing owl stood by its mound while the second only poked its head out of the burrow. See the Morro Bay Bird Festival Website for more details on guided birdwatching trips and activities in and around California's Central Coast each January. I highly recommend this festival!

Recently our whole family saw a burrowing owl at a local airport here in Northern California. Unusually for the season, it was raining in September, and the poor owl, possibly finding its burrow partially flooded (and smelling of wet manure), was trying to dry off on a post.


Hopi Native Americans believe the burrowing owl to be the god of the dead and protector of all that is underground, including seeds. To me, this owl represents security and home because it seeks out its burrow.