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The Burrowing Owl

Gopher-like


Speotyto cunicularia

The burrowing owl is one of the smalles of the owls, being only about nine inches long with a wingspan of a little over two feet. But this is only their second reason for being so unique. Burrowing owls, as their name suggests, dig burrows in compacted sandy soil, or use old burrows from other animals. They do this out of necessity, because they tend to live in desert or savannah environments, where there is little or no ground cover besides these burrows.

The owls used to be found all across the Midwest and the desert Southwest, living in collusion with prairie dogs. But, since the decline of the prairie dog, the burrowing owl has also suffered. Their numbers are declining rapidly.

However, conservation efforts are well in place at Eglin Air Force Base near Pensacola, Florida. Their Environmental Planning Office, also known as the Jackson Guard, sees to the needs of these special birds by preserving another burrowing creature: the gopher tortoise. This absolutely unique reptile digs deep burrows in the sandy soil of the Florida Panhandle, which are used not only by the owls, but also by frogs and snakes, including the beautiful Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. You can imagine that living in the same burrows that one of these huge and deadly predators might use can be pretty dangerous. An Eastern Diamondback would make a quick snack out of one of these tiny owls! So the owls are most active during the day, when snakes are out and about in the warm sun. They hop and fly around, keeping a close eye out for any slitherings or other threats in the savannah grass.


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