Burrowing Owl, At Home
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Burrowing Owls, as their name implies, live in burrows. That makes them different from all other North American birds. Another important difference from most birds is that they don’t abandon their homes after raising their young. A Burrowing Owl will continue to utilize its burrow (sometimes these owls have more than one burrow) as its sanctuary and base of operations even when it is not nesting. I know of one Burrowing Owl that has been a resident of its burrow for well over a year.
These owls rarely dig their own burrows. Rather, they appropriate burrows from other species, such as ground squirrels or prairie dogs, or they seek out natural cavities. In the agricultural country between Tucson and Phoenix there is a myriad of concrete irrigation canals, many of them decades old. There is a lot of subsidence in the soil beneath these canals, creating cavities, and Burrowing Owls have chosen some of these cavities as burrows.
The owls often improve the burrows that they’ve appropriated, enlarging the entrances, lengthening the burrows, and digging out nesting chambers.
Here’s a picture I made a few days ago of a Burrowing Owl next to its home.
This owl’s burrow is dug into the side of a man-made dirt berm. The berm is just above the lip of a concrete irrigation canal (not pictured). It’s impossible to determine how deep is this burrow, but it is likely pretty substantial, judging from the size of its opening.
A friend, Claude Wegscheider, asked me whether these burrows are prone to flooding. The answer is: I don’t know for sure. The owls’ breeding season coincides with the driest part of our year and that obviously protects the eggs and hatchlings from accidental drowning. But, we do get some rain here in southern Arizona, including intense monsoon thunderstorms in the summer. It’s unclear to me whether the owls must vacate their homes during these events.
Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 500, f8 @ 1/1250.