Juvenile Burrowing Owl looking high in the skyJuvenile Burrowing Owl looking high in the sky – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/500, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The past few years I have missed seeing and photographing young Burrowing Owls on Antelope Island State Park for numerous reasons. During the breeding season of 2011 some photographers people trampled over a burrow that had been productive for years that was close to the road and that burrow has not been active since.

These owls are so appealing, cute and funny that they can be “loved to death“. Care must be taken around their burrows as their burrows can extend way beyond the openings to the burrows and people walking on them can crush the burrows possibly trapping the owls inside.

Funny Burrowing OwlFunny Burrowing Owl – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/500, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

Last year there was a banding program of the Burrowing Owls on Antelope Island to study their migration patterns, mortality and to help understand why these “Clowns of the Desert” are in decline throughout the western United States. I am completely for the research but even the disturbance caused by banding seemed to have an affect on the Burrowing Owls on Antelope Island last year.

It seemed that all of the owls from the burrows close to the roads on Antelope Island dispersed much sooner than they had in years past which limited the time I (and others) had to see and photograph them.

Young Burrowing Owl with an eye on the skyYoung Burrowing Owl with an eye on the sky – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/750, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

There are various reasons for the decline of Burrowing Owls in the western U.S. including habitat destruction which is no surprise since many of the species that are threatened or endangered throughout the U.S. are in decline because we are encroaching on and destroying their habitat.  Range land being converted to irrigated farmland is another reason as is widespread elimination of prairie dogs and ground squirrels.

These beautiful owls do need our protection and what they don’t need is people tromping over their burrows, getting too close or bothering them for too long.


Here is a neat Burrowing Owl cam out of Florida to view.

For more information on the ethics of photographing nesting birds or chicks check out the Principles of Birding Ethics published by the American Birding Association.


  1. Wally April 3, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Mia, very nice post with superb photographs!

    As I’ve been cataloguing nests over the past couple of years, I’ve had to withhold detailed locational information for Burrowing Owls due to exactly the problem you have described. All it takes is for one unthinking/uncaring person to encroach too closely and a nest site will be abandoned.

  2. Jane Chesebrough April 3, 2014 at 12:25 am

    Good advice about the caution to take around the burrows. These poses are hilarious. Such character!

  3. Patty Chadwick April 2, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Laughter…then heartache. I laughed out loud when I saw the first image,it’s so darned funny and cute, but was moved to tears by the comments! “Loved to death” says it all. How terribly, terribly sad! These little guys are treasures…to lose them would (will?) be so tragic…I feel so helpless to stop the greed and stupidity that could lead to this.

  4. Elephant's Child April 2, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    A heart-hurting post of these goofy charmers. Loved to death is just as dead.

  5. Montanagirl April 2, 2014 at 10:35 am

    They sure are adorable little beauties. A few years ago I managed some photos of some of these North of where we live.

  6. Sarah Mayhew April 2, 2014 at 10:08 am

    Wonderful shots. We have many fewer in Davis, CA as well. 🙁

  7. Lois Bryan April 2, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Ooh, Mia … my heart bleeds for them … your description just truly hurts. I’m hoping you see lots and lots this year!! (Then WE will too, through you!) Your images are SO appealing … SO darling!!!! That first one in particular … the writer’s side of my brain is dying to spend a few minutes thinking up silly captions!!!!!! Love, love love!!!! Now … stop reading this, go grab your camera, and get back out there and get us some more burrowing owl snaps!!! SHOO!!

  8. Scott Simmons April 2, 2014 at 6:48 am

    Those are really some great photos. All my photos are taken from 1/2 mile away or so, and I wouldn’t show them to my mother. 🙂

  9. Bob Bushell April 2, 2014 at 6:37 am

    Beautiful Burrowing Owl Mia.

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