8 Wonderfully Weird Facts About Burrowing Owls

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Behold the beguiling burrowing owl.

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). These little weirdos (I mean that in the best way) defy the usual owliness of owls with their long legs and strange habits – and may be one of the most wondrous owls of all! Consider the following.

1. They're unusual day hunters


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 its head about in impossibly cute contortions and hops about on one foot as well.

2. They are subterranean

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. They live in surprising habitats

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

4. They pack a full pantry

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.)

burrowing owl

5. They are not canaries in a coalmine

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. They cleverly lure food

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. The leave "no vacancy" signs

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. They're troopers

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.