Burrowing Owls

Here is a fun post about a morning I had in May with a family of burrowing owls. Burrowing owls, as the name implies, build their nests in the earth. They dig a burrow in the ground, lay their eggs in the burrow, then incubate them inside the burrow until they hatch. The hatchlings then use the burrow for shelter and protection from predators.

Burrowing owls are one of the most animated and entertaining birds to photograph. In order to better judge the distance between themselves and a far off object or sound, they will lift their heads or turn their heads sideways in order to change the depth perception to the object. This gives them a better sense of what they are looking at in the distance to determine if the object is prey or predator. These same actions, along with their huge yellow eyes, give them a clownish appearance and make for some entertaining photos.

I arrived at the burrow knowing that there were young owls present. I first spotted one of the adults who checked me out. Click the images to view larger.

Burrowing Owls
Burrowing Owl Adult

After passing inspection, the adult flew off and left the nest unattended. After a short while, the bravest of the young owls came out to see what was going on.

Burrowing Owls
Brave Burrowing Owl

A short time later, one of his siblings joined him to see what all the clicking noise was about.

Burrowing Owls
And then there was two.

Before long, they became bored with the action.

Burrowing Owls

Watching from the burrow, another owl decided to see what was going on.

Burrowing Owls
Curious sibling makes three!

Soon, all three became bored with me. After all, what kind of excitement is there watching a photographer hiding behind a giant lens 30 feet away?

Burrowing Owls
Bored with the photographer

To my surprise, the youngsters continued to pour out of the burrow.

Burrowing Owls
One more makes four.

And as they had done before, they quickly became concerned with anything else but me.

Burrowing Owls
Where’s the party?

And then there was 5. This is the largest brood of burrowing owls that I’ve had the opportunity to photograph. It is nearly impossible to get 5 owls to all look at you at the same time. You can’t really move or make any sounds as you may frighten them back into the burrow. It’s very frustrating!

Burrowing Owls
The gang’s all here!

Not surprising, the party died off rather quickly. Burrowing owls just aren’t the party animals you might think they would be. Then again, maybe these guys have had one too many!

Burrowing Owls
Worst party ever!

It was a great morning with the owl family, and I was impressed that they were being cared for and well fed by a single adult. On a previous visit, I had found one of the adults tangled in barbed wire and had perished without being able to extract his/her wings from the barbs. Burrowing owls nest in pastures, and many pastures are protected by barbed wire in order to keep the livestock contained. The owls don’t necessarily see the wires, or if they are chasing prey, or being chased by a predator, they can crash into the wire. If their wings get snagged on the barbs, they will not be able to free themselves. Although I was sad to know that one of the adults met a grisly end, I was happy that these 5 youngsters continued to do well and all looked rather healthy.


  • Debbie Tubridy

    February 19, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Oh, how I miss my burrowing owls! But I can’t wait to see them again … of course, with a whole new crew. 🙂
    Beautiful shots Michael!

    • Michael

      February 19, 2014 at 7:28 pm

      Thank you, Debbie!

  • Donna Faylo

    February 20, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    These photos are great and I love your commentary. The last photo is hysterical!

    • Michael

      February 20, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      Thanks, Donna! I’m glad you enjoyed it.