New Digs?

On Monday, Steve Valasek sent me this picture of a burrowing owl near his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Talk about cute!

Burrowing owls (Athene cuniculari) are relatively small.  From beak to tail they’re only as long as an American robin but they’re more than twice as heavy and have double the wingspan.  When you see them you don’t think “size of a robin” but they’re small enough to fall prey to raptors, dogs and cats.

Burrowing owls live in open habitats from western Canada to the tip of South America.  They often nest colonially using burrows made by other animals (prairie dogs, ground squirrels, armadillos).  The burrows are also their safe zones.

The first time I ever saw a burrowing owl was in Boca Raton, Florida in December 1998.  After Christmas we were sitting around the table talking about birds and my sister-in-law said, “We have burrowing owls.”   Yow! A Life Bird!  We drove at dusk to a soccer field at Florida Atlantic University (FAU).  On the edge of the field were orange traffic cones to protect the burrows.  Perched on the fence above the cones were several burrowing owls!

Burrowing owls lived on the land before the University was established and FAU is proud to have them there.  Not only does the University protect the birds but they named their sports team The Owls and their sports arena The Burrow.

Burrowing owls are endangered or threatened in much of the West because of changes in habitat and the eradication of prairie dogs.  To help restore their population, biologists have developed ways to construct safe burrows and carefully place safe perches.  If all goes well, the owls return from migration and discover a beautifully improved home for their families.

Sometimes these methods are used to successfully relocate owls whose land is threatened.  When the owls are settled in their new home I wonder if they put up a sign at the old place.   “We’ve moved to new digs.”


(photo by Steve Valasek)

7 thoughts on “New Digs?

  1. When Dan and I went to Arizona, driving to the southern areas, we passed a cemetary and they were sitting on the tombstones, in the daytime…cute…

  2. Saw these in Florida last month, also. New to Marco, to my knowledge, and with the orange cones and signs up to protect them.

    They were in undeveloped lots in the middle of the subdivision, and I wondered what the developer/owner’s options were — is this lost money for them, or is there some kind of compensation if an endangered species takes up residence on your investment?

    Not sure these are endangered in Florida, but the locals seemed to like them, so there’d probably be a stink in any case if someone tried to develop on the owl’s property.

  3. Chuck Tague says the burrows (and the owls) get really stinky after awhile due to their complete neglect of housekeeping — so stinky that very old natural history museum specimens still smell when they are removed from storage. New digs once in awhile might not be such a bad idea. Recently saw them near the public library in Coral Gables.

    1. Actually, burrowing owls decorate their burrows with mammal dung. It’s a feature of their nest entrances.

  4. Didn’t Jimmy Buffet write a children’s book about a little girl who helped save a burrowing owl community from developers in FL? I can’t remember the title. Anne

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