8 wonderfully weird facts about burrowing owls

53 of 1005
53 of 1005

All birds are wonderful, but owls hold a special spot in many a bird lover's heart. Whether for their majesty, wisdom, stealthy grace or any other number of attributes, people just love the owls.

And then there's the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia), which defies the usual owliness of owls with its long legs and strange habits – and may be one of the most wondrous owls of all! Consider the following.

1. Owls soar through the night and silently, magically, hunt in the dark, right? Not the burrowing owl: It hunts on the ground during the day. It also jerks it head about in impossibly cute contortions and hops about on one foot as well.

2. While we generally picture owls living in trees, burrowing owls – oh how I love this – live underground in burrows they have dug or more popularly, in burrows they borrow from prairie dogs, ground squirrels, or even tortoises.

3. Burrowing owls live in open habitats with sparse vegetation such as prairie, pastures, desert, and shrubsteppe ... or, according to Cornell Lab of Ornithology (our go-to owl source for these facts), airports.

4. Like many a burrowing animal, burrowing owls hoard food to get them through lean times; and they take this job seriously! One cache observed in Saskatchewan in 1997 revealed more than 200 rodents in storage. (Reality show, please.)

5. Burrowing owls have an especially high tolerance for carbon dioxide, higher than most than other birds; this is an adaptation for spending long periods underground, where the gas can accumulate to higher levels.

6. Before laying eggs, these clever birds scatter animal dung all about the entrance to their subterranean lairs; the result? Essentially, the owl version of delivery food; troops of dung beetles and other insects come marching, which the owls then catch and eat.

7. They also decorate their nest entrances with bottle caps, metal foil, cigarette butts, paper scraps, and other bits of trash – surely this is for some kind of curb appeal, though scientists say that it is probably to signify that the burrow is occupied. (Boring, we're going with decor.)

8. The oldest known burrowing owl was at least 9 years, 11 months old when it was last sighted in California in 2014. We'd like to think that the owl is still going strong, it's just gone underground, so to speak.

Thank you to photographer Rollie Rodriguez – who took the shot above at the Salton Sea, California – for inspiring this much-appreciated distraction!

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