Burrowing Owls in Marana

By Dan Weisz

The Great Horned Owl chicks that I have been following have all fledged and the families are now roaming around their territory, teaching the little ones how to hunt and survive.  So I do have, literally, “empty nest” syndrome.

However, it is springtime and the Burrowing Owl families in southern Arizona have been busy.  I visited some agricultural areas to see if I could find a few and was not disappointed.  Burrowing Owls in this area often make or use other burrows adjacent to irrigation canals.  The canals are a sturdy concrete roof and the ground next to the canals is soft dirt.  The owls either use or excavate old squirrel and rodent burrows, use ‘natural’ holes in the side of trhe canals, and even dig their own.  Here, an owl and I watch a farmer prepare his field for a summer crop.   This photo gives you a sense of the neighborhood.

Often the female Burrowing Owl is darker than the male. It is thought that since the male is out hunting in sunlight during the day while the female is in the burrow tending the eggs and young, that the male’s feathers are more “bleached” and that there is often a color difference in the two.  In this species, the males are larger than the females.  Because Burrowing Owls are out in the daytime they are easier to see than other owls, and Burrowing Owls have wonderful expressions.  It is tempting to anthropomorphize them. In this case, what do you think these two owls are thinking??  Sure looks dramatic to me!

Something’s up in the sky!


Father flew away and eventually returned with a grasshopper.  A few of the chicks were out and this one ran the fastest to meet its father.  It was rewarded with Dad shoving his beak way down his youngster’s throat to deliver the snack.

And then, with the grasshopper’s tail sticking out of its beak, Junior skipped and hopped back to his siblings as if to show off its prize!

I’m not sure its siblings were impressed.  You can see the difference between the breast feathers of the young compared to the adult feathers of the mother bird.

Mom spent most of her time atop the concrete just watching the world.  At one point after some activity, she had a little bit of mud stuck to her beak

Three of the Burrowing Owl chicks got excited when a parent flew back to the nest.  Those wing feathers are barely there.

Just hanging around with my bros.

Mother Burrowing Owl flew to an irrigation ditch closer to the farm field but kept a close eye on her chicks back at the burrow entrance.

The Desert Museum has information on all of southern Arizona’s owls species, including the Burrowing Owl: https://www.desertmuseum.org/books/nhsd_owls.php

I definitely plan to return to this family in the near future to watch the little ones grow.

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