South Florida Audubon Society

This small, brown, white-speckled bird appears to be standing on stilts with his hands in his pockets. Pete Dunne has called the Burrowing Owl a "Potato on Stilts." As a member of the typical owls family (Strigidae), he has good eyesight for catching prey in the dark or daylight. His bright yellow eyes are inset in a relatively flat face on a rounded head.

 Like the prairie dog, this owl likes dirt and often builds an underground tunnel six to ten feet long in open, dry, or sparsely vegetated areas.  He can be coaxed into using an artificial burrow made of PVC pipe or may use water culverts and drains.  He hunts for prey from a perch (e.g., limb, rock, fence post, road sign) and stalks prey on the ground or flycatches insects in the air.   Prey are primarily invertebrates.  

While not a strong vocalist, the Burrowing Owl does make sounds such as "cuh-huh," "whoof" or "whew," "whe'h'h'h'h'h," and "reah." His flight is steady and direct with a glide as he lands. 

The Florida burrowing owl is classified as "threatened", as of November 16, 2016,  by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This means burrows, owls, and their eggs are protected from harassment and/or disturbance by state law. Additionally, they will receive much stronger protection in state permitting decisions.  Three years ago, Audubon successfully lobbied FWC to change its definition of "take" of state-Threatened species to include the loss of habitat.  As a result, development proposals that impact these species' habitat will now be subject to minimization and mitigation under state law, a big win since the greatest threat to most of these species is habitat loss. Burrowing owls are also protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  

photo credit: Susan Faulkner Davis

Burrowing Owl in Danger?

If you think a Burrowing Owl is in immediate danger, please contact the Law Enforcement Division of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ( directly at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).  You can call 24 hours a day/7 days a week and can choose to remain anonymous.

If the owls are not in immediate danger, the FWC can send signs to the property owner or manager for use in notifying people in the area of the protected status of the Burrowing Owls.