Species Spotlight: The Burrowing Owl is Adorable and Resilient

Jul 27, 2022 | MSHCP, News, Species

The burrowing owl (athene cunicularia hypugaea) is arguably one of the most lovable MSHCP-protected species. Covered in brown and white feathers, this cutie is only 7-10 inches tall with giant yellow eyes that are as vivid as the sun.

Despite its small stature burrowing owls can migrate great distances throughout the western United States and even as far south as El Salvador. Although they can migrate some burrowing owls stay in western Riverside County year-round.

As its name suggests, the birds live in underground burrows abandoned by ground squirrels and other small mammals. Nesting also occurs below ground. The owls lay on average 6 eggs, which usually hatch in two weeks. The owlets tend to fly four weeks after hatching.

Burrowing owls hunt small lizards, birds, and insects at dusk and dawn. They prefer to live in low lying vegetation like pastures, grasslands, and fields and need large open spaces to forage for prey. If you see a large section of grassland with holes in the ground, watch out! You may be able to spot a burrowing owl.

Listed as a California Species of Special Concern, the owl is threatened by disappearing grasslands, land development, rodent control measures, and prolonged droughts. The MSHCP includes 27,470 acres of suitable habitat in five Core Areas including Lake Skinner/Diamond Valley Lake, Playa west of Hemet, San Jacinto Wildlife Area/Mystic Lake, Lake Mathews, and the Santa Ana River.

The burrowing owl has proven to be resilient in recent translocation efforts. With the support of the San Diego Zoo, a translocation study measured how well burrowing owls fare when they are moved to other areas. Using cameras, the RCA was able to identify owls that were successfully translocated. Click here to learn more about this owl recovery program.

An element of the MSHCP consistency (and Joint Project Review) includes surveys for burrowing owl. When the RCA conducts a Joint Project Review, the agency is proactive in ensuring that any impacts to burrowing owl are mitigated. The Joint Project Review process is essential for the MSHCP’s protection of 146 native animal and plant species through conservation land set asides, which helps western Riverside County’s quality of living.