One last set of owls

by Greg Mayer

By special request I obtained photos of a population of burrowing owls in Florida featured last fall here at WEIT. They are now breeding. (See update below.)

Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) in Cape Coral, FL, April 20, 2012.

One parent is on the mound, and three chicks are visible. Here, the other parent is visible.

Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) in Cape Coral, FL, April 20, 2012.

There are five chicks altogether.  Here’s the report I received on them:

It’s so cool to see how the parents act.  They are always positioned the same way, one at the entrance of the burrow watching the chicks and the other hidden behind a tuft of grass a little bit in front of the burrow, standing guard. They’re getting big so fast.

These are not necessarily the same owls pictured in the previous post, but it’s the same population. In the U.S., as discussed in the previous post on them, burrowing owls are mostly western in distribution, with an isolated segment in peninsular Florida. There are also scattered populations in the West Indies.

UPDATE, May 4, 2012. I’ve just received the following note on the baby owls’ development from my correspondent:

The babies are now indistinguishable from the adults in looks, but they still haven’t left the nest. You can tell which ones are the parents by their behavior- mom or dad is usually shooing the babies into their burrow when we walk by.


  1. Posted April 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for owl week!!

  2. Tarron
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I saw one of these at a flying display at a nearby wildlife park. Was the cutest little thing, and had such character. Refused to fly anywhere, instead hopped behind my sons leg and hid, which he of course loved.
    Thanks for the owls Jerry, my favourite avian animals.

  3. Brian
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, is there any chance you can publish your recent journal article in a PDF here? It would make it accessible to a much wider audience. I’d like to read it but can’t get it off the university site.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      As soon as it’s publicly available for free on the journal site–and it will be, after I’ve tweaked it and corrected the galley proofs–I’ll put up a link.

      • gravelinspector
        Posted April 21, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        Merci beaucoup. (Or as a friend I was just reading an email from would pronounce it, “murky buckets”!)

  4. Sastra
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    That first photo looks like they might be staging a passion play. But nobody wants to be Jesus, I guess.

  5. Posted April 21, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    I was surprised to learn that there are Burrowing Owls here in the Andean grasslands of Ecuador as well. Those guys really get around for such seemingly reluctant fliers.

    • Posted April 22, 2012 at 5:10 am | Permalink

      Well I was surprised to learn the Burrowing Owls even exist! I had no idea so I’ve learnt something new today.

  6. Dermot C
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    I’ve really enjoyed seeing and hearing the owls; thanks, Jerry. A little OT, but, in the Englsh Midlands my wife Carol and I spotted today a bird we could not identify; I thought some expert on this site could give us a clue.

    It was about the size and shape, and of the gait, of a mistle thrush, black or very dark brown in the body and completely white (or perhaps a VERY light yellow) on the head; the beak was not a bright, noticeable colour, so I assume it was dark. It was not near water, it hopped along the ground beneath a planted coniferous; I can locate it neither in the thrush nor in the corvid family. It wasn’t a wood-pecker, nor a ring ouzel. My brother, an amateur ornithologist, was flummoxed. Any ideas, anyone?

  7. Posted April 21, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    3 minute Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife YouTube VIDEO Quote:

    “Take a close-up look at a burrow in Washington state that is home to 12 successfully reared owlets. The burrowing owlets run for cover and the parents stand watch as predator soars overhead”

    Not a lot happens, but some interesting behaviour ~ one of the adults stands on one leg to rest the other one [or my own preferred explanation ~ to preserve body heat]

  8. Marella
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Owl week has been owlsome! Thanks Jerry.

  9. Matthew Jenkins
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    There are burrowing owls here in South Brazil too. You see them near the regional airport in Bacacheri,Curitiba, as they nest there and in military land next door.

  10. gravelinspector
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    “Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia)”
    My dog-Latin alarm is going off. “Athene” is obviously Latinised “Athena”, the Greek goddess of wisdom (amongst other things) whose totem animal is the owl.
    “cunicularia” is something to do with rabbits, isn’t it. Or as Middle English had them, “coneys”. (Tolkein tried to drag the word back into Modern English in Lord of the Rings. It doesn’t seem to have taken in the modern mind though. Or maybe a lot more people looked at the pages of LoTR than actually read it.)
    I suppose I’ll have to try and check the etymology now. […] Ah, it looks as if Wikipedia is probably tripping over it’s own feet again at , which states that “A cunicularium is an establishment of animal husbandry dedicated to the raising of rabbits for meat and fur.” but then goes on to say “Similar, but unrelated terms are: . . . Athene cunicularia, the burrowing owl” (Also earlier Greek sources for the Latin ; meh!)
    Given that info, I’d translate Molina’s binomial as meaning “the Athene (Little Owl) that lives in a warren.”Which is a pretty good description of the lifestyle from Jerry’s posted pictures.

  11. M31
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Here is a video I just came across today, of an eagle owl. It is excellent quality and taken with a high-speed camera, so the detail is amazing. Watch its eyes as it zeros in on the ‘prey’ (the camera person holding out a chicken leg).

    Watching the talons open up at the end, I’m really glad I’m not a mouse.

  12. M31
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    oops! I actually went back to make sure it wasn’t one of the owl week videos, but clearly ceiling cat requires more diligence.

    I think Hi-Def Eagle Owl might give ceiling cat a run for his money, though.

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