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Photo of a burrowing owl.

Burrowing owl
(Speotyto cunicularia)

Appearance

The diminutive burrowing owl stands about 6 to 7 inches tall and weighs about 6 ounces -- about the size of a single-dip ice-cream cone. It looks somewhat like a gnome of the prairie with skinny legs and bright yellow eyes. Often active in the daytime, this owl is appealing to watch because it often stands on one leg and bobs its head up and down.

Habitat and Range

Burrowing owls nest from the prairies and parklands of Alberta and Saskatchewan southward through the Great Plains to Mexico and northern Central America. They also nest in Florida and the Caribbean, as well as from Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego. As their name implies, burrowing owls nest in underground burrows in prairies, savannas, and sand dunes where burrows have been previously dug by prairie dogs, badgers, or foxes.

Status

The burrowing owl is an endangered species throughout much of North America, including Minnesota. Its numbers declined greatly during the past 50 years due to loss of prairies, grasslands, and pastures and the use of pesticides, which may poison the owls and the grasshoppers and other small creatures they eat. The increase of great horned owls in prairie regions, due to fewer fires and more trees, has had a negative impact on burrowing owls because great horned owls kill and eat them.Hunting Behavior Prey animals include grasshoppers, beetles, mice, ground squirrels, small frogs, lizards, and snakes. Burrowing owls hunt in flight and hover before swooping down on their prey. They also chase prey on the ground.

Nesting

In April or May they lay a clutch of three to 12 eggs, which hatch after 28 days. The curious owl chicks appear at the burrow entrance after about two weeks. They become self-sufficient at about 6 weeks. Owls sometimes nest in artificial tunnels and burrows placed for them in suitable habitat. Observing Burrowing owls have become exceedingly rare in Minnesota in recent years. Only one pair is known to have nested in Minnesota in 2007. They were observed at the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge near Mentor where they raised two owlets on restored prairie. It is hoped that prairie restoration and management activities of the DNR, The Nature Conservancy, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will increase their population in Minnesota.

Carrol L. Henderson, DNR Nongame Wildlife Program supervisor

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