Once upon a time there were more burrowing owls in the Marana, Arizona area than now. Typically the burrowing owl, one of the smallest owls in North America, would live in burrows dug out by other animals, such as ground squirrels. With continued habitat destruction, declining numbers of ground squirrels, and land use change, there was a noticeable decline of these owls. So with local effort, “artificial burrows” were created with mounds of dirt, rock, buckets and pipe entrances to the underground with hopes of enticing burrowing owls back to the area. The owls may line the burrow with grass, feathers or other objects and enlarge the burrow as they need.
I have been watching for these birds and when I finally saw one it was not the best time for a photograph, but I took the photo since this was the first burrowing owl I had ever seen. Look closely at the photo above, toward the right side, to see the rear view of a burrowing owl!
In researching information about these birds, I was surprised to read of an adaptation found in them and other burrowing animals – they have a higher tolerance for carbon dioxide than other birds. The gas accumulates to higher levels there than found above ground. Since burrowing animals spend long periods underground, they have adapted to the situation.
They live in grasslands, deserts and open habitat and feed on insects, small birds and rodents. The breeding season begins in early March. Before laying eggs, they may carpet the entrance to the home with animal dung which attracts dung beetles and other insects that the owls catch and eat. The female lays 7 – 9 eggs. Male and female will sit on the eggs for 3 – 4 weeks. The parents feed, care and teach the young to hunt and kill. By end of summer the young have grown their adult feathers, know how to hunt on their own and are ready to leave their parents.
In my quest to get a better photograph of a burrowing owl, I was birding again in Marana and never quite sure what I will see. However, I was lucky to be talking with a person about my first sighting of a burrowing owl when he told me of a burrowing owl just .25 miles down a local road, hanging out near an irrigation ditch … at least he saw it there 2 days ago. I thought, what are the chances?
I decided to drive to the spot when I was done birding. Can you believe it!?! A burrowing owl was standing there! I used the side of my car as a blind so I would not cause it any stress. I watched it turn its head around and loved looking into its eyes. I could not imagine it standing out here in the open, especially since great horned owls, coyotes, foxes and raccoons prey on burrowing owls. What a stroke of luck for me!
Here are my photos: