What do Burrowing Owls Eat?

Photo by Pascha Donaldson
Photo by Pascha Donaldson

Burrowing Owls  love mice.  It is reported that a Burrowing Owl family can eat upwards of 1500 mice a year.  It’s no wonder you rarely see mice in Cape Coral.  Burrowing Owls also eat invasive Brown Anoles (those little brown “lizards” you see all around) , small snakes, crickets, palmetto bugs, dung beetles, frogs and other such tasty morsels.

There is a Burrowing Owl sitting outside my front door and it has been there all day and not moved.  Is it sick?

This is a very common question that I get asked. During the daylight hours, Burrowing Owls are quite content to just sit by the burrow or in a cool shady spot for hours on end.  I have observed an owl on my lawn sitting in front of the burrow for 12 hours without moving.  Come night time and the owl took off to go hunting. So if you are concerned that an owl is hanging out in the same spot for several days, go out at night and see if it is still there.  99% of the time it won’t be there.

How long do Burrowing Owls live?

Years ago, thereImage was a Burrowing Owl in Cape Coral that lived across the street from a bar.  Every day, the owl would fly across the street and hang out in the eves of the outdoor deck.  This owl was reportedly 8 years owl when it died.  This is about max for a Burrowing Owl, but with cars, hawks, cats and humans, their life span is probably a lot less.  I wonder if that owl died of cirrhosis of the liver!!!

How big are the Burrowing Owls?

Adult Burrowing Owls are about the size of an American Robin and is only about 9 inches tall when fully grown.  It weighs about 4 1/2 – 9 ounces, about the weight of a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with cheese©.

How big is a Burrowing Owl

Ready to Fly

They have quite a large wingspan at 21 inches (53 cm).

 How can you tell the males and females apart?

In Male and Female Owlorder to tell a male from a female, you need to have the bird in hand and check out the vital parts.  In the field,  if you see them together, we often see the male being lighter in color than the female. This is not an accepted field mark, but it is what the people in the trenches see.  The male stands guard at the burrow entrance for hours on end and his feather get bleached out in the hot Florida sun. Judging from that, the male is in the foreground in the photo below.

Can Burrowing Owls turn their heads completely around?

No! A Burrowing Owl (or any other owl) can only turn their head 270° as shown in the blue area in the graphic below.  They can turn their heads from 0º, through 90º and 180º, to 270º.  The eyes of the Burrowing Owls have become so specialized and large that they do not move in their sockets so the owl must turn its head to view an object. The photo on the right shows a Burrowing Owl (on the left) turning its head 180 degrees.  If you look closely at the bottom of the owl, you can see its tail

 270 degrees180 Degree Rotation

How many chicks to they have?

I ha5 Juvenile Burrowing Owlsve seen 7 chicks born to a pair on my front lawn. 9 is about max for the Florida Burrowing Owls and the Western species can have 11.

This photo shows 5 chicks but if you look closely at the feet of the second owl from the right, there looks to be a 6th owl behind that one.

What’s with the crosses in Cape Coral?

Visitor146s to Cape Coral think we are either terrible drivers or we have a lot of pets that have passed away.  All over town you see wooden crosses, aka perches.  These perches have been put up for the owls.  The biggest predator of the Burrowing Owl is the hawk.  Even from the first day out of the burrow,  baby chicks scan the skies for hawks.  Burrowing Owls love wide open prairie-like habitat and the perches give them something to stand on to keep an eye out for hawks.  Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife is the organization that helps the City of Cape Coral mark all the burrows in town.  Some homeowner who have Burrowing Owls on their front lawns get a little creative with their perches as can be seen in the photo to the left.

Do Burrowing Owls migrate?

Some of the western species of the Burrowing Owl do migrate, but the owls here in Cape Coral do not.  They are quite happy staying here all year round.  During the hot summers, they are known to hang out in the coolness of the mangrove trees, but they are not very far from “home”.  Several years ago, biologist Tom Allen placed radio tracking devices on 50 of the Cape Coral Burrowing Owls to see just where they went.  One managed to find its way to Marco Island, a few went to Fort Myers, Fl and one traveled to the north section of Cape Coral. The rest stayed near their burrows.

 I hear a Burrowing Owl will attack you.

If a Burrowing Owl is threatened, it will fly to the burrow for protection.  Since the burrow is on the ground and if you are between the owl and the burrow, the owl will appear to be swooping down on you. There has never been a reported attack by a Burrowing Owl on a human in the City of Cape Coral. But be forewarned, they get very testy if you get too close to the burrow.  Especially if there are eggs or young present.

Do Burrowing Owls dig their own burrows?

Yes, here in Florida they do. Our soft sandy soil makes it easy for the owls to dig a burrow, which can be up to 10 feet long and 1-3 feet deep.  Once homeowners install our Florida “grass” on the lawn, the owls can no longer dig a burrow. The grass we have here in Florida is very coarse and nearly impossible to dig through, so the owls need a helping hand.

Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife teaches residents how to put “starter burrows” on their properties to encourage the owls to nest.  This involves digging a small section of grass out of the lawn to create a disturbed area which may attract the owls. For more information on starter burrows, read the Starter Burrows article on their website.

To see a Burrowing Owl video showing how they dig a burrow, check out this YouTube Video of a Burrowing Owl Digging.