Burrowing Owls: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: April Gwen Ellsworth

April has a master's degree in psychology and has experience teaching special populations from preschoolers to adults.

In this lesson we'll learn about the burrowing owl, a small owl with many characteristics that make it different from other owls. Read on to find out more about these interesting birds.

Burrowing Owls and Where They Live

What has two long legs, two wings, and lives underground? If you guessed the burrowing owl, you're right! This small mammal is about as tall as an iPad but weighs much less, only about as much as a baseball.

Burrowing owls get their name from doing just that: burrowing, or digging, a hole in the ground to build their nest and raise young. Most of the time they use homes already dug by small animals, such as prairie dogs, ground squirrels, or tortoises.

The brown parts of this map show the places in North and South America where burrowing owls live.
burrows, range

You might see a burrowing owl when visiting the desert, prairie lands, farmland, or even near golf courses, airports, and vacant lots in the city. These owls like wide-open, treeless areas with ground bushes and grass to hide from predators.

What Burrowing Owls Look Like

So how do you spot a burrowing owl? One difference from other owls is their long legs. Also, most male owls are bigger than the female, but both genders of burrowing owls are about the same size. Burrowing owls are brown with white spots on their backs and white bars along their fronts. You might think they have one long, white eyebrow above their bright yellow eyes, but it is really a line of white feathers. These owls also have a short tail and a flattened head shape.

The brown feathers with white spots of burrowing owls help camouflage them from predators.

Hunting and Eating

Have you ever been called a night owl? This means you like to stay up late like most owls, which are active at night but sleep during the day. Not the burrowing owl, though! This bird is active during the day and night, hunting for food mostly in the early morning and evening, like your breakfast and dinner times.

Burrowing owls eat mostly insects, especially the dung beetle. In fact, burrowing owls line their nests with dung, or manure, from animals like cows. This may sound strange, but it's actually very smart because dung attracts the dung beetle, making it easy for the burrowing owl to catch its favorite meal!

Along with insects, burrowing owls sometimes eat small mammals like moles and mice, scorpions, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. The burrowing owl hunts by walking, hopping, or running along the ground and uses its feet to catch food. It could also fly from a perch to grab its next meal. Burrowing owls also have excellent hearing and vision, which helps them catch prey.

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