Probably the most distinctive feature of the burrowing owl is the fact that, unlike most owls, this species routinely nests and lives underground (2) (5). Although fully capable of excavating its own burrow, the burrowing owl most commonly occupies the abandoned burrows of mammals (2). In the northern part of its range it commonly uses the burrows of prairie dogs, while in South America, as noted by the famous naturalist Charles Darwin, it inhabits burrows made by large, rabbit-like rodents called viscachas (6). Interestingly, burrowing owls purposefully deposit piles of mammal dung around the entrance of their burrows. This unusual behaviour has been shown to be a method of baiting, as the dung attracts numerous dung beetles, which the owl then feeds upon (7). Aside from invertebrates, the burrowing owl will also take small mammals, birds and reptiles, either pursing its prey on foot or diving down upon it from the air or a perch (2). Outside the breeding season, this species rests in its burrow during the day and mainly hunts at dusk, during the night, and at dawn. During breeding, however, burrowing owls may forage at any point during the day or night (2) (4).
During the spring breeding season, burrowing owls form monogamous pairs, which maintain a small territory comprising the nesting burrow and the immediate surroundings. The female lays a clutch of up to 11 eggs, which are incubated for around one month, while the male brings food. In the initial period after hatching, the female remains with the young and is supported by the male, but as the young become more developed the female leaves the burrow and assists the male in foraging for food. After around 44 days the young leave the burrow and join the parent birds on hunting flights (2).
While many burrowing owl breeding pairs remain resident around a burrow throughout the year, individuals from Canada and the northern USA are migratory. At the end of the breeding season, pairs in these regions split up and fly south to overwinter, before returning in the following spring and establishing a new breeding pair with a different partner (2).