Do Owls Live Underground?


Yes, burrowing owls live underground.

They nest and roost in burrows, which are either dug by themselves or taken over from other burrowing animals such as prairie dogs, ground squirrels, or tortoises

. In the absence of suitable burrows, they have been known to nest in man-made structures like PVC pipes or buckets. The underground burrows provide them with a cool and protected environment, especially in areas with extreme heat. The burrows also help regulate temperature and prevent dehydration on hot days. Burrowing owls are unique among owls as they are active during the day.

Where Do Owls Typically Live And Build Their Nests?

Owls live in a variety of habitats, including wooded areas, rainforests, grassy plains, deserts, and even in urban areas.

They do not make their own nests, but instead, take advantage of the hard work performed by other animals.

Here are some common places where different species of owls live and build their nests:

  • Hollows in trees: Many owls simply nest in holes, called cavities or hollows, in trees.

    These tree cavities occur naturally, but are often created by woodpeckers.
  • Buildings: Some species of owls, like the barn owl, will nest and live in places other than barns, such as abandoned structures, church steeples, and even ledges underneath bridges.

    Barns and other abandoned structures make up a large percentage of where they nest, which is how they got their name.

    They will make nests on ledges and corners inside of these buildings.
  • Underground burrows: The burrowing owl lives underground in holes dug by other animals, such as ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and badgers.

    Some burrowing owls use their feet and bills to dig burrows themselves.
  • Cacti: Elf owls nest in saguaro cacti, where woodpeckers have created ready-made holes.
  • Nesting boxes: One place that many owl species will nest in is an owl nesting box.

    These are boxes that are typically built out of wood or plastic that are made for the specific species of owl.
    It’s worth noting that snowy owls are one of the only types of owl that actually put any effort into building their nests.

    They nest on the ground, usually on an elevated rise or mound, so they can keep an eye out for predators.

    They do still use other birds’ nests as their own, just like other owls do.

    However, they do at least line their nests with feathers and vegetation and not just years of compressed owl pellets.

Are There Any Owl Species That Exhibit Burrowing Or Underground Behaviors?

Yes, there are owl species that exhibit burrowing or underground behaviors.

The burrowing owl is one such species.

These owls are one of the smallest owl species and are found in open, grassy habitats throughout the Americas, especially where burrowing mammals are plentiful.

They nest and roost in burrows, such as those excavated by prairie dogs, and they may also excavate their own burrows if necessary.

Burrowing owls are diurnal, or most active during the day, and are very energetic, bobbing up and down when they perch.

They are the only small owl species to perch on the ground and are so terrestrial that when disturbed, they will often run or flatten themselves against the ground, rather than fly away.

What Adaptations Do Owls Have For Their Specific Habitats, Whether They Live Underground Or Above Ground?

Owls have many adaptations that help them survive in their specific habitats.

Below are some of the adaptations that different owl species have developed:

  • Feathers: The colors of an owl’s feathers help it blend in with the natural environment and keep it warm.

    For example, snowy owls have white feathers that help them hide in their snowy habitat, while flammulated owls have dark feathers that help camouflage them when tucked up against a tree.

    Grassland species have light brown feathers to match the tan grasses and the brown earth.
  • Flight: Owls have totally silent flight from fringed flight feathers that muffle the sound of air passing through their feathers.

    This helps them sneak up on prey.

    They also have large eyes set forward on their heads for great depth perception for hunting, and their sharp talons are great for grabbing prey on the fly.
  • Hearing: Owls have excellent hearing that allows them to sense small prey rustling in the leaves on the ground.

    The retinas of their eyes are packed with low light-sensitive rods to see in low light.
  • Legs and toes: Barn owls have remarkably long legs, toes, and talons that help them catch prey.

    They also have a very low wing loading, which means they are able to fly very slowly without stalling and hover in only the slightest lift (rising air) .
  • Facial discs: Owls have facial discs that help them locate prey.

    These discs are made up of feathers that direct sound waves towards their ears, allowing them to pinpoint the location of prey even in complete darkness.
  • Nocturnal behavior: Owls are usually nocturnal, so they have completely silent flight and dark-adapted eyes that work well in full sunlight.

Helpful Resources