One of California’s most beloved owls today was named the 2013 Audubon California Bird of the Year. The Burrowing Owl – which nests in underground in burrows rather than trees – received the designation after receiving more than 48 percent of votes cast during an online poll this fall. The long-legged owl just missed being named Bird of the Year in 2012, but it was overtaken in voting in the last week by the Sandhill Crane.

The Burrowing Owl finds its home in dry open areas with low vegetation, sometimes in vacant properties along the urban and surburban edges where bird enthusiasts delight in watching them. However, it is exactly this type of habitat is often targeted for development, putting the Burrowing Owl in a precarious position.

“All of the nominated birds are great, but I’m not surprised that the Burrowing Owl got so many votes,” said Brigid McCormack, executive director of Audubon California. “It’s an extremely popular bird, one that thrives in tough environments, and prompts a lot of people to rally around its protection.”

Burrowing Owls breed from Canada's southern prairie provinces south throughout western United States to southern California and Mexico. They can also be found in Florida, Cuba and South America. Burrowing Owls are 9" tall, and have short tails and long legs.

The Burrowing Owl has been designated a Species of Special Concern in California, mostly due to threats to habitat from agriculture and development. A number of local populations of Burrowing Owls have declined in recent years, mostly due to the conversion of their habitat to other uses. While a number of Audubon chapters are working to protect Burrowing Owls in their local areas, Audubon California has been directly involved in safeguarding their habitat as the state maps out zones for solar power development in the southwestern part of California.

More than 22,000 votes were cast in this year’s Bird of the Year poll. The Burrowing Owl finished with 48.3 percent of the votes cast. The Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo was a distant second at 16.1 percent, while the Brown Pelican took third with 12.9 percent of the vote.

This year, voters were encouraged to vote in two other categories. The Swainson’s Hawk was named the Comeback Kid on the strength of its recovery in certain areas of the state, while the Western Snowy Plover took Cutest Fluffy Fluff.

“Every species nominated was a focus of our conservation work over the last year,” said McCormack. “Our hope is that the attention this award brings to the Burrowing Owl will help raise awareness of the conservation needs of all birds throughout the state.”

About Audubon California 

Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. With more than 150,000 members and supporters in California, and an affiliated 48 local Audubon chapters, Audubon California is a field program of the National Audubon Society.

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