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Burrowing Owls Hiss Like a Rattlesnake!

Warning away unwanted visitors
© Matthew Paulson View Large

Despite its name, the Burrowing Owl doesn’t do much digging. It’s better known for its hair-raising hiss, which may have evolved to mimic the warning of a cornered rattlesnake. The sonic threat of a venomous reptile could be just enough to warn away most unwanted visitors from the owl’s nest burrow. In one experiment, ground squirrels were nearly as alarmed by the Burrowing Owl’s hiss as they were by the recording of a real rattlesnake!

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®   

Burrowing Owls and Rattlesnakes

Written by Bob Sundstrom

[Burrowing Owl hooting]

This is BirdNote.

[Burrowing Owl hooting]

The Burrowing Owl’s vocal abilities have raised eyebrows among birders and scientists alike. [Burrowing Owl hooting] 

Because as well as its double hoots and other calls, the Burrowing Owl is known for this hair-raising sound: [Burrowing Owl Hiss]

Standing on almost comically long legs, this yellow-eyed owl is very active in daytime, and its hissing habit may have evolved to mimic the sibilant warning given by a cornered rattlesnake. This sonic threat of a venomous reptile could be just enough to warn away most unwanted visitors from the owl’s nest burrow.  [Burrowing Owl Hiss] 

In one experiment, ground squirrels were nearly as alarmed by the Burrowing Owl’s hiss as they were by the recording of a real rattlesnake like this one. [Rattlesnake] 

Despite its name, the Burrowing Owl doesn’t do much digging, though. Instead, it’s more of a squatter, nesting and roosting in vacant rodent burrows, often those of prairie dogs. Until it’s time to eat. Not content with providing the Burrowing Owl’s accom-modation, rodents – especially mice – also provide lunch - well, they ARE lunch - with a side of large insects. Before the Burrowing Owl retires again to its mostly subterranean life.

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Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Itha-ca, New York. Burrowing Owl 119479 recorded by G. A. Keller; Rattlesnake 107975 recorded by S. R. Pantle. Burrowing Owl Rattlesnake Mimic recording courtesy of Jeff Rice for the Acoustic Atlas at Montana State University.
BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org    August 2014/2017   Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#       BUOW-03-2014-08-27   BUOW-03 

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