Athene cuniculariaburrowing owl

Geographic Range

Athene cunicularia is found in North and South America. They live in the desert regions and grasslands of western North America, and also in the drier areas of Central and South America. Burrowing Owls spend their winters in Texas where they commonly breed. During the summer the owls also can be found in northern areas of the Great Plains and northern California (Snyder 2000; Interactive Broadcasting Company 1999).


Athene cunicularia lives in burrows of open, dry grasslands, and deserts. They can also be found in airports and golf courses (Davis 2000).

Physical Description

Athene cunicularia is one of the smallest owl species. The owl, which resides primarily on the ground, has long lanky legs, a short tail, and it does not have any ear tufts. The average adult owl is between 8.5-11 inches tall and weighs about 4-6 oz. Unlike other owl species, the female burrowing owl is smaller than the male. The burrowing owl's body is generally brown with speckles of white. The owl's breast is a lighter color brown while its face is encircled in white, with tinges of sandy brown feathers. The owl has wings about the same size as its body, featherless legs, and round yellow eyes ("Interactive" 1999; Davis 2000).


Burrowing owls will nest underground, either by digging its own burrow or more frequently by taking over a burrow dug by other mammals such as prairie dogs and pocket gophers. The owl lines its den with grass and roots and in April the female owl will lay about 7-9 round white eggs. After about four weeks of incubation, the eggs will hatch and the mother and father will share the responsibility of caring for the young. The young owlets will remain in their nest for about 40 days before leaving and venturing out on their own. While owlets are still in their nest, they have the capability of mimicking a rattlesnake to scare away predators (Davis 2000).

  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    28 days



Athene cunicularia is different from other owl species in many different aspects. The owl spends most of its time on the ground and it will live together in colonies with other burrowing owls. They may hover above the ground in search for prey. The burrowing owl is diurnal, and not nocturnal like most other species of owls. The owl is also unique in that its entire head revolves in order for it to see its surroundings because its eyes are not capable of moving in the eye sockets (Britannica 2000; Snyder 2000).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The diet of the burrowing owl consists of insects, small frogs, lizards, and rodents. The owl will eat beetles, crickets, moths, kangaroo rats, and snails. It eats different prey depending on availability in the habitat and the time of year. The owl is a keen hunter always on the look out for prey, during the day or night, and always keeping a supply of food in its burrow (Snyder 2000; "Interactive" 1999).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Because of the human destruction of the burrowing owl's habitat, the owl has been decreasing in number and therefore is not abundant enough to be used for any human advantage (Snyder 2000)

Conservation Status

Burrowing owl populations are declining. An insecticide used in farming was recently banned in Canada because of the harmful effects the chemical has on burrowing owls. A reintroduction program started in 1985 is trying to establish a population of these owls in Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota (Snyder 2000).


Christina Cheng (author), West Windsor-Plainsboro High School, Joan Rasmussen (editor), West Windsor-Plainsboro High School.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


Davis, B. 2000. "Burrowing Owl" (On-line). Accessed August 25 2000 at

Encyclopedia Britannica, 2000. "Burrowing owl" (On-line). Accessed September 4, 2000 at

Interactive Broadcasting Company, 1999. "Burrowing Owl" (On-line). Accessed September 2, 2000 at

Snyder, H. 2000. "Burrowing Owls" (On-line). Accessed September 2, 2000 at