If you grab a great photograph of an owl in the daytime…
And you live in the Western Hemisphere…
On a grassland or desert or even a cornfield…
Chances are it just may be an Athene cunicularia or Burrowing owl, such as my buddy Barry!
Barry’s a bit different from other owls you may have met. He doesn’t have ear tufts, doesn’t hang out in woodlands or barns, doesn’t nest in trees, and often stays active in daytime—which is when I found and photographed him.
Stranger still, Barry makes his home in an underground hole! As his English nickname suggests, he can dig his own dwelling — but he much prefers to let prairie dogs or ground squirrels do the burrowing, and when they move on, Barry moves in.
As you may know, this let-the-gopher-dig-it strategy is also employed by rattlesnakes, and guess what…?
Barry actually employs this handy fact when threatened — scampering off to his burrow and mimicking rattler sounds!
It gets even better. See those long legs? Come nightfall, Barry can literally sprint across the grasslands like an Olympian, whenever his sharp hearing picks up the rustle of a vole, rat, lizard or other tasty vertebrate. But his tricks don’t end here..
When running won’t serve, Barry flies up to a lofty branch. Then, when his piercing gold eyes spot a gecko, frog or toad — he swoops down and nails his prey like a barn owl. He also loves to gobble termites, katydids, grasshoppers, scorpions, wolf spiders and other stuff that might make the squeamish squeal. Plus, when hunting won’t serve, he can raid squirrel stockpiles of nuts, and…
Although, Barry’s no giant — about the size of American Robin — this won’t stop him from devouring other birds that weigh about the same as him. Plump, slow doves are a special treat!
All in all, this very contrarian owl couldn’t be more fascinating. Unfortunately, Barry’s a threatened species in North America, where prairie dog eradication programs are making it hard for burrowing owls to find a safe home.
Despite the name, Burrowing Owls can dig for themselves just in limited patches of soft earth, while optimum habitat often has hard-packed, rocky soil that only gophers or woodchucks can excavate.
If you happen to have Burrowing Owls anywhere nearby, you may want to join the kind souls who create man-made dwellings for these helpful and endangered birds. It’s surprisingly easy. Just Google “make home for a burrowing owl,” get out your shovel and get to it!