The burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) is a unique species native to the grasslands and deserts of North America, Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America. As their name suggests, these birds nest underground in burrows - typically those abandoned by other animals.
Burrowing owls primarily eat a plethora of insects and small mammals, including beetles, grasshoppers, mice, and voles. However, they are opportunistic feeders that spend a lot of time foraging, so they will pursue any prey small enough for them to attack safely.
These quirky little owls are known to hunt bats, rabbits, snakes, and other birds - some as large as ducks. Despite their relatively small size, they are skilled hunters, like other owl species. If you are interested in discovering more about the eating habits of the burrowing owl, read on!
Burrowing Owls have a highly varied diet
A burrowing owl’s favorite foods include beetles, other insects, mice, birds, and lizards. However, they do have quite a varied diet. Considered opportunistic feeders, burrowing owls are known to consume any vertebrate or invertebrate they can handle.
On average, these owls consume more individual invertebrates, such as beetles, scorpions, grasshoppers, termites, dragonflies, and moths. But vertebrate consumption makes up the most biomass in their diets. Burrowing owls feed on various vertebrates, including other birds, bats, voles, ground squirrels, rabbits, snakes, lizards, frogs, and turtles.
Burrowing owls are opportunistic feeders - they catch prey and eat when the opportunity arises. The owls are most active at dusk and dawn, but also hunt throughout the day and night.
Burrowing Owls spend a lot of time foraging for food throughout the day
Burrowing owls have a couple of different hunting styles - the strategies used are determined by the time of day and the prey they are hunting.
Owls typically hunt insects during the day - catching them from a perch or walking along the ground. Vertebrates are often hunted at dusk or dawn while hovering close to the ground or observing from a high point.
The burrowing owl catches prey with its sharp talons, and then carries the catch back to the burrow in its beak.
Burrowing owls are considered crepuscular hunters, meaning they primarily hunt at dawn and dusk. However, these are not the only periods the owls are active and feeding. They are generally active on and off throughout a 24-hour window.
The owls often hunt and feed on insects during the day. Whereas dawn and dusk feeding activity primarily focuses on vertebrates, such as mice, rabbits, bats, and birds.
Burrowing Owl with a toad
In winter, burrowing owls in the northern reaches of their habitat (the southwestern United States) primarily subsist on vertebrates, particularly mammals and other birds. Insects are scarce in this region during the colder months.
On the other hand, their diets remain much unchanged in the southern portions of the burrowing owl's territory. They still eat numerous insects and vertebrates.
During the spring to summer breeding season burrowing owls mainly eat insects and other invertebrates, such as scorpions and crustaceans. However, the birds are opportunistic feeders, they will feed on small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and other birds when an opportunity presents itself.
Close up of a Burrowing Owl family, Florida
Baby burrowing owls primarily eat small mammals and insects, including beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, moths, mice, voles, and ground squirrels. During the first two weeks, the male hunts and brings food back to the nest, while the female feeds and broods the young.
After about two weeks, the young are independent enough to be left alone for short periods, while the female also goes hunting. At this stage, the chicks can venture outside of the burrow. However, they do not leave the nesting area until 44 to 53 days after hatching.
A burrowing owl feeding one of their chicks a mealworm
A burrowing owl’s diet consists primarily of insects and small mammals. If you have owls nesting near your home, you could provide food sources such as beetles, grasshoppers, and mice. However, these owls are excellent hunters and do very well on their own. They are also sensitive about human disturbance. It is best not to linger around nesting sights.
Burrowing owls generally hunt and feed on the ground. If they do not feel safe remaining out in the open, the birds will return to the nest to consume their meal.
Burrowing Owl eating prey
Burrowing owls drink water from nearby sources. They tend to drink more frequently when temperatures rise.
Burrowing owl habitat includes open grasslands and deserts without trees and high shrubs. They generally nest in burrows created by other animals, particularly those of prairie dogs. In fact, the two species are very closely associated.
If your yard contains this expansive habitat with abandoned burrows, a burrowing owl may take up residence. Such an occurrence is highly unlikely, though. These owls tend to avoid areas with a lot of human activity.
Close up of a Burrowing Owl
Burrowing owls are considered carnivores. They primarily consume insects, crustaceans, small mammals, birds, and reptiles. However, these owls will occasionally eat seeds and fruits.
Burrowing owls may eat baby prairie dogs or prairie dog carcasses. However, they are more likely to feed on mice and other small rodents.
Burrowing owls will eat rattlesnakes and other snake species, but do not attack snakes that are too large for them to handle.
Burrowing owls will occasionally eat other birds as large as ducks, so smaller chickens could be at risk. Attacks on chickens are uncommon, however. Burrowing owls rarely hunt so near to humans.
Rabbits are one of the burrowing owl's primary vertebrate food sources.
Burrowing Owl coming in to land with prey
Burrowing owls could catch and eat a small cat, but this is unlikely. They mainly consume mice, voles, ground squirrels, and shrews.
A burrowing owl’s diet primarily consists of insects and small mammals. However, they also occasionally consume fruits and seeds.
Burrowing owls do eat mice. Mice and other small rodents are among the owl’s primary food sources.
There are no records of burrowing owls eating ants. However, they frequently consume termites and other small insects.
Florida burrowing owls primarily eat insects. But their diets also include various rodents, snakes, lizards, frogs, and small birds.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.
© 2023 - Birdfact. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.