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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote on Burrowing Owls

Air Date: Week of

A burrowing owl in flight near an artificial burrow. (Photo: Jim Belthoff)

Out on the grasslands of the American West, the burrowing owl lives in the ground amidst prairie dogs and rattlesnakes. Michael Stein introduces us to this “priest of the prairie dogs” in this week’s Birdnote®.


CURWOOD: One of the pleasures we find in BirdNote® is learning more about some less-familiar feathered friends, and that's the case this week, with an unexpected underground owl.
Here's Michael Stein.



A burrowing owl spreads its wings to defend its home. (Photo: Jim Belthoff)

The Burrowing Owl

STEIN: It is a warm May afternoon. As you take a leisurely drive through open grassland in the West, suddenly, a remarkable sight catches your eye—atop a fencepost on surprisingly long legs, stands a small, brown owl.


Two burrowing owls meet near an artificial burrow. (Photo: Jim Belthoff)

STEIN: You’ve chanced upon a Burrowing Owl, an owl species most active during the day.


STEIN: The ten-inch-tall owl bobs up and down on its legs, swivels its head, and stares back at you with large, lemon-yellow eyes. Fluttering up from its perch, the Burrowing Owl hovers twenty feet above ground, then drops, catching a large beetle in its talons. It flies to an abandoned marmot burrow, where it nests and avoids the heat of midday. Naturalist Hamilton Tyler noted that the Zuni people call the Burrowing Owl, “the priest of the prairie dogs,” because the owls live on peaceable terms with prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, and horned toads.


CA burrowing owl leaves its nest to hunt for insects and rodents. (Photo: Jim Belthoff)

STEIN: The Burrowing Owl is in serious decline in the West, due to intensive agriculture, destruction of ground squirrel colonies and elimination of sage habitats. This charismatic owl, which migrates south for the winter, returns each spring to an ever-more uncertain fate.


STEIN: I’m Michael Stein.

Burrowing owls nest with large broods, and are comfortable settling about 100 yards from their neighbors. (Photo: Jim Belthoff)


Written by Bob Sundstrom
Calls of the Burrowing Owl provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G.A. Keller.
LMS CD 25 T2 & 3 Irrigation ambient recorded by C. Peterson

A burrowing owl leaves its nest to hunt for insects and rodents. (Photo: Jim Belthoff)

Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2014 Tune In to Nature.org May 2014 Narrator: Michael Stein


CURWOOD: To see some photos of these interesting owls, burrow into our website, LOE.org.




Read more about the burrowing owl on the Audubon Society’s page

To learn more, check out the Burrowing Owl Conservation Network

Hear more burrowing owl calls at the Macaulay Library


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