Burrowing Owl Photographs, South-Central Arizona
Photos by Greg Clark, May 23, 1999
The Burrowing Owl is rapidly disappearing as the last open space with suitable burrows and food is eliminated. Once numerous, as the burrow diggers (Prairie Dogs, ground squirrels, and other large mammals that dig holes) were shot, poisoned, and exterminated by any means, the owl was a victim as if it were poisoned also. Completely beneficial to humans and their livelyhoods, the owl catches small rodents, lizards, other birds and insects. It is possible to build artificial burrows and attract the owl to a farm, vacant lot, industrial-area parking lot, and city green belt or park. Because the owl is active during both night and day, it is a joy to watch. Since the owl does not usually (or typically) dig the burrows itself it is possible for people to take the place of the missing burrow-digger, this is just the same as providing a nest box for any other cavity nester. If the food supply is plentiful and the habitat is appropriate for the owl (no big trees nearby and no close green vegetation walls), and the burrow competently built, eventually an owl will find the hole (tunnel, really). In some arid habitats, small ground squirrels dig burrows large enough and these are used by the owl. The community relationships between the owl and the mammals that also live nearby in their burrows has evolved over time. Both the prey mammals and the owl are vocal and can signal danger to each other. This is an area of current study and no one really knows how much information can be shared by all the members of the prey community. If you have Burrowing Owls near you it is possible for you to gather information about the threats to the community, how each member detects and transmits information about the threat, and how the community reacts to the information. The burrow is used in the spring and summer months where the owls raise one brood.
For information about the ongoing Artificial Nest Box project in the greater Phoenix area use this link: Artificial Nest Box Project
Burrowing Owls have very long legs and a wide range of vocalizations. If disturbed in the nest they will duplicate the sound of a rattle snake. I do not plan on testing that aspect of their behavior myself.
Copyright Greg Clark, 1999