This comical little bird is one of the most diurnal of all owls. It often perches near its hole; when approached too closely, it will bob up and down and finally dive into its burrow rather than take flight. It usually claims burrows that have been abandoned by prairie dogs or pocket gophers but is quite capable of digging its own. Sadly, recent reports show that this amusing owl is declining in population in California.
It breeds from Canada's southern prairie provinces south throughout western United States to southern California. Burrowing Owls are 9" tall, roughly the size of a robin. It has a short tail and long legs. Its eyes are yellow and there are no protruding ears.
Audubon chapters work extensively with this bird. Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society is heavily involved because the San Francisco Bay Area, historically one of four primary Burrowing Owl nesting areas in California, has suffered steep population declines in recent years. By 2010 the number of these owls in the Bay Area has declined to the to the brink of extinction. In fact, in 2009 fewer than forty nesting pairs lived in Santa Clara Valley, mostly restricted to northern county bayside parks, golf courses, airports, and rural lands near Alviso and Mission College. This chapter is diligently advocating for the preservation, restoration and enhancement of the Western Burrowing Owl and its habitat in cities along the San Francisco Bay.*
Burrowing Owls in Imperial Valley
Just south of the Salton Sea lies the Imperial Valley, home to about 70% of the state's breeding Burrowing Owls, or about 4,000 breeding pairs. The population of this small bird has been in sharp decline over the last 50 years. No one factor has been implicated in its decline, but the cumulative impacts of human activities have certainly contributed. Farming and renewable energy development both pose risks to this bird's habitat in the Imperial Valley.