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Burrowing Owl - BirdForum Opus

Photo © by Juninho
Fort Myers, Florida, USA
Athene cunicularia


Small owl
Length 9 in, wingspan approximately 20-22 in

  • Long legs
  • Bright golden eyes
  • Brown above
  • White spotting and brown barring on the breast and belly
  • Somewhat buffy below
  • Prominent white eyebrow and throat
Photo © by David Roach
Brian Piccolo Park, Florida, May 2009


Spottily over North, Central and South America.


Thirteen to twenty-three subspecies are recognized for this species. In the past, Burrowing Owl was placed in genus Speotyto; it is now placed in genus Athene as the only "new world" representative.

Among the subspecies, Western hypugaea is slightly paler than floridiana in Florida. Florida birds are also more heavily spotted, with less buff underparts.


Juvenile, subspecies grallaria
Photo © by fintanl
São Paulo, Brazil, November 2006
  • A. c. hypugaea: South-western Canada to El Salvador
  • A. c. rostrata: Isla Clarión (Revillagigedo Islands off western Mexico)
  • A. c. floridana: Prairies of central and southern Florida, Bahamas, Cuba, Isle of Pines
  • A. c. guantanamensis: Coastal northern Cuba (Guantánamo Province)
  • A. c. troglodytes: Hispaniola, Gonâve and Beata islands
  • A. c. amaura: Formerly Nevis and Antigua (West Indies). Extinct
  • A. c. guadeloupensis: Formerly Guadeloupe (West Indies). Extinct
  • A. c. arubensis: Aruba (Netherlands Antilles)
  • A. c. brachyptera: Isla Margarita (off northern Venezuela)
  • A. c. apurensis: North-central Venezuela
  • A. c. minor: Southern Guyana and adjacent extreme northern Brazil (Roraima)
  • A. c. carrikeri: Eastern Colombia
  • A. c. tolimae: Western Colombia (Tolima)
  • A. c. pichinchae: Western Ecuador (except for arid littoral)
  • A. c. punensis: Arid littoral of south-western Ecuador and north-western Peru
  • A. c. intermedia: Coastal western Peru (Paita to Pacasmayo)
  • A. c. nanodes: Arid littoral of western Peru (Trujillo to Arequipa)
  • A. c. juninensis: Andes of central Peru (Junín) to western Bolivia and north-western Argentina
  • A. c. boliviana: Bolivia
  • A. c. grallaria: Eastern Brazil (Maranhão to Mato Grosso and Paraná)
  • A. c. partridgei: Northern Argentina (Corrientes Province)
  • A. c. cunicularia: Southern Bolivia and southern Brazil to Paraguay and Tierra del Fuego


A. c. hypugaea
Photo © by Joseph Morlan
Mountain View, California, USA, 12 February 2021

Open areas, mostly with some trees or bushes.


Photo © by oderson
Itumbiara, Brazil, September 2009

Though mainly a nocturnal hunter, Burrowing Owls are fairly active during the daytime. In broad daylight, these diminutive hunters perch conspicuously in the open, whether on the ground next to the entrance hole or on a neaby post. Fairly bold, typically allows people fairly close, unless it has owlets in the nest. Like most birds, they are very protective of their young.


A strong flyer, often seen in low, undulating flight. Burrowing Owls are also adept at hovering, fluttering like an American Kestrel over their prey.


Though they will excavate their own burrows, they will readily commandeer the (sometimes) abandoned nests of creatures such as ground squirrels, prairie dogs, armadillos, and gophers.


Eats a range of prey, including crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, and small rodents. Places the dung of animals such as bison or cattle near its nest hole. The function of this was until recently unknown, but has been proven to attract beetles and other insects; a tasty snack.


  1. Clements, JF. 2009. The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World. 6th ed., with updates to December 2009. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0801445019.

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