Burrowing Owl

2005 Rescue / Not Released

This little Burrowing Owl came to Mississippi from Florida in 2005 on the front of an 18-wheeler!

At a stop in Iuka, someone pointed out to the driver that there was an owl stuck in the grill of his truck. The trucker gently removed the injured owl from his grill and took him to a local veterinarian, where a wildlife volunteer accepted responsibility for its care. Both of the owl's legs were broken; one so badly it had to be pinned. The little owl was then sent to MWR for long term care. Upon removing the bandages, the vet found one leg had not healed properly and the other too damaged to save. Sadly, the vet had to amputate.

Without legs to catch its food, this rescue cannot be released into the wild. MWR is applying for permission to keep it permanently as an educational bird. If disallowed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may require that he be euthanized. The life span of wild Burrowing Owls is unknown, but this one has a safe home at MWR with the vet's promise to provide any medical care he needs. He needs housing and food for the rest of his life. Donate to MWR help to pay for the care of all wildlife we assist, including this Burrowing Owl.

Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) are 8 to 10 inches tall, round-headed with earth-brown and white-spotted feathers and an opposable fourth toe. They have whitish eyebrows, long legs, piercing yellow eyes, a very short tail and invisible ears. When they are not threatened they may stand motionless and make a mellow rolling "coo-c-o-o" sound. When they are agitated they bob up and down or bow, and when alarmed they make a cackling/screeching noise.

Burrowing Owls are found from Canada to South America. They mostly inhabit the western US, but are native to Mississippi as well. Burrowing Owls can be year-round residents or migratory, depending on the local temperatures and habitat. Little is known about their migratory habits, but California and Florida appear to be popular destinations in the wintertime.

Burrowing Owls get their name from their living habits. While they can dig their own burrows, they usually don't bother but rather use properly-sized, vacated burrows made by mammals such as ground squirrels, badgers, or even man. They prefer burrows in sagebrush stands, open fields, near golf courses, and along road cut banks--areas surrounded by bare ground or short grass where other burrows are located. The burrow's nest cavity is located at the end of a 5-10 foot tunnel that usually has at least one turn.

Individual birds may use more than one burrow within their territory. This multi-burrow usage may be an anti-predation strategy; if a predator finds one burrow, some of the chicks might not be detected in the other burrow. They avoid thick, tall vegetation, brush and trees because these areas provide places for predators to hide. They are easy prey while nesting on the ground.

Like most animals, the Burrowing Owl's activities are tightly centered on the nest burrow during breeding season. These Owls build very distinctive nest burrows because they decorate the entrances with cow manure or insect parts, cotton, dead toads, plastic or aluminum foil. If you find a nest burrow, like all wildlife's habitats, it is important not to disturb it, but these Owls can be fun to watch. Locally, homes for burrowing owls have been built from Horn Rapids Golf Course to the Pasco Airport. For some reason, the owls seem tolerant of human presence and successfully breed near golf courses and airports. This small bird is the only owl that routinely lives and nests underground.

The nesting season, including courtship and egg laying, is long and occurs between February 1 and August 30, depending on location. Female Burrowing Owls lay seven to nine white eggs in the nest cavity, and those eggs hatch in about 28 days during which the males will bring food to the females and chicks as well as during the early nestling stages. Two to four weeks after hatching you may see the little owlets sitting near the burrow entrance. When frightened, the owlets hop back into their hole. When disturbed in the burrow, the young owls make a rasping noise similar to that of a rattlesnake's rattle and all owls can turn their heads about 270 degrees. The young chicks are capable of short flights by week four, and fly well at week six. They are fed by their parents for another six to eight weeks after fledgling, and remain near their home burrow until fall.

These owls are very “site-tenacious” and will not move to a different burrow during nesting season. Even if they migrate they regularly return to burrows from the previous year. Burrowing Owls eat mostly at night when they can nab mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, beetles, crickets, and grasshoppers, spiders, centipedes, scorpions, crayfish and mollusks. They must have great hearing because Owls can only see in black and white, not color. These Owls change their diet with the seasons, eating mostly vertebrates during the spring and insects in the summer. If you've ever watched Steve Irwin, the Crock Hunter, he likes to examine owl "pellets" to see what they have eaten as they are composed of bones that the owl could not digest.

At one time, Burrowing Owls were fairly common and widespread. Just like other wildlife, populations have declined, and in some cases have disappeared due to habitat destruction. Plowing fields and suburban sprawl have eliminated the burrows in which they - and other burrowing creatures - live. Overuse of agricultural pesticides is thought to have harmed both mature and young burrowing owls and reduced the insects the Owls eat. Also, because owls may sit near their roadsides burrows where they live and hunt, collisions with vehicles cause many deaths.

Burrowing Owls are endangered in Canada and are listed as endangered or threatened in a number of states, and are now federally listed as a Species of Management Concern and a Species of Special Concern.

Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc. is the only state-licensed facility for wildlife rehabilitation in Northern Mississippi. It is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization serving the following Mississippi counties: Benton, Calhoun, Chickasaw, Coahoma, DeSoto, Grenada, Itawamba, LaFayette, Leflore, Marshall, Oktibbeha, Panola, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Tate, Tippah, Yalobusha. MWR relies solely on the generous donations of people like you - we receive no federal, state or municipal funding and all of our staff are unpaid volunteers. Your donations provide us with the means to continue helping the animals. All donations are tax-deductible and go directly towards helping the animals!

Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc.
9865 Green River Road Lake Cormorant, MS 38641
(662) 429-5105

Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization that accepts tax deductible contributions.

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