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Burrowing owls on branches.

Burrowing Owl

General Information: The burrowing owl is unmistakable, as a long-legged owl that hunts on the ground during the day. Burrowing owls are small, sandy colored owls with bright-yellow eyes. They live underground in burrows they’ve dug themselves or taken over from a prairie dog, ground squirrel, or tortoise. They live in grasslands, deserts, and other open habitats, where they hunt mainly insects and rodents.  

CategoryFocal species
Surface Water Needs: None
Federal Listing Status: None
State Listing Status: Species of Special Concern

Potential Conservation Actions:  

  • Create grazing plans  
  • Recontour ground 
  • Avoid disking and pesticides
  • Plant natives 

Fun Fact

Cowboys sometimes called these owls “howdy birds,” because they seemed to nod in greeting from the entrances to their burrows in prairie-dog towns.


Burrowing owl is an upland species primarily found in grasslands with short vegetation and sparse shrubs. They nest and roost in burrows and eat insect, small mammals, and other birds.



Low-density shrublands

Agricultural canals and ditches

Disturbance and Stressors

Their numbers have declined sharply with human alteration of their habitat for agricultural and urban development. The elimination of burrowing mammals like the prairie dogs and ground squirrels contributes to habitat decline of the burrowing owl. Habitat fragmentation, predation, illegal shooting, pesticides, and other contaminants also cause species decline.

Industrial development and pollution

Urban development

Pesticides and contaminants

Habitat fragmentation

Burrowing owl. Image by Lindsey Day via Audubon

Sources: Barclay et al. 1998, Gervais et al. 2008, Klute et al. 2003, Poulin et al. 2020, Thomsen 1971, Zarn 1974
Photo credits:, Lindsey Day via Audubon