Nature Notes: Burrowing Owls

by Manpreet Kaur, Teaching Intern

Unlike your average owl, the Western Burrowing owl, as its name suggests, lives underground. This brown and white owl with piercing yellow eyes is 8-10 inches tall and active not only at night, but also during the day. Though most active at dawn and dusk, Burrowing Owls may hunt throughout a 24-hour period and are known to be very vocal, bold, and surprisingly approachable. Their calls can range from a “rasp” to a “chuck” to a “scream.”

Burrowing Owls make their nests underground usually in abandoned burrows and can be found in a wide range of low vegetation habitats ranging from grasslands to deserts. They have been known to return to the same burrow for many years. 

Native to Southern and Northern America, the first sighting of a Western Burrowing Owl was published in a report by Giovanni Ignazio Molina, an Italian Jesuit priest in Chile, in 1782. Though these small birds were abundant in Southern California in the 19th century, and could be seen just about everywhere by 1975, the situation changed drastically. By 2003, urbanization to meet the demands of a rapidly growing human population had nearly eliminated the entire population from the coast of California. It is reported that the Burrowing Owl breeding population decreased more than 60 percent. This rapid decrease also inspired a 2006 Hollywood movie, Hoot, focused on a group of children trying to save a Burrowing Owl habitat in a small Florida town.

Currently, the Burrowing Owl is protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and has been classified as a “Species of Special Concern.” Fortunately for Bay Area residents, these beautiful creatures can be found nearby in the City of Mountain View. Shoreline, a 750-acre wildlife and recreation site open to the public, has been making efforts since the 1990s to implement management plans to increase their population, including monitoring the owls and improving their habitat.

Everyone is encouraged to go see these amazing birds for themselves and enjoy their beauty and, perhaps, even become involved in the efforts to preserve the Western Burrowing Owls.

"Burrowing Owls." City of Mountain View. City of Mountain View, n.d. Web. 05 May 2013. <

Miller, Jeff. "Western Burrowing Owl." Center for Biological Diversity. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2013. <>.

Photo credit: © Doug Kalish