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Name

  • Common Name (English): Burrowing Owl
  • Scientific Name: Athene cunicularia

 

 

 

Etymology

Athene comes from the Greek and refers to Athena, goddess of wisdom, war and the liberal arts; cunicularia comes from the Latin cunicularius, meaning digger or miner – this bird’s defining behaviour is that it creates tunnels for nesting.

Distribution and habitat

The burrowing owl is the most widely distributed representatives of the Estrigidae family in the Americas. It can be observed from Argentina to South Florida and the Caribbean. However, it should be noted that, to date, over 20 subspecies have been identified, all of which are very similar to each other.

This small owl, measuring only 23cm in length, can be seen throughout the American plains. It is one of the few owls that are partially active during the day, usually around the subterranean burrows it inhabits (it may have taken over residences from other animals such as armadillos or prairie dogs).

Their diet, which is based mainly on arthropods and some rodents, make these birds an ally of farmers and food producers throughout the ecosystems they occupy. They offer an important means of biological control, as they are also known to adapt to eat prey whose numbers can increase vastly on a seasonal basis.

This owl is characterised by tolerating significant levels of anthropogenic alteration of its habitat and adapting to the diet available to it as a result. Therein lies the key to its population health; these animals are believed to enjoy a reasonably stable population.

Studies of the diet in Ecuadorian populations identified prey ranging from 1 to 162 grams in weight. Even fish scales and some snakes of the Colubridae family have been identified in their droppings. However, arthropods have been determined to represent more than 70% of their daily diet.

These owls usually manage a clutch with 4-6 eggs on average. Over 80% of eggs hatch, which is key to the abundance of this species. Another crucial factor in its success, as mentioned above, is its ability to adapt to spaces which have been affected by human activities.

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