Kelly Vaughn

There are a few undeniable truths about burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia): They’re cute. They’re social. And they’re the American Birding Association’s 2022 “Bird of the Year.” In its announcement, the organization declared: “Every ABA Bird of the Year has charm and character, but the 2022 Bird of the Year is arguably the world’s most charismatic bird species: the burrowing owl. Who has seen a burrowing owl, whether in person or in a photograph, and not marveled at the expressiveness of this small yet larger-than-life owl?”

Indeed, burrowing owls are tiny, measuring around 8 inches tall, with a wingspan of about 22 inches. Their small stature enables the birds to nest underground. And while they’re capable of digging their own nests, they much prefer taking over the abandoned homes of prairie dogs and ground squirrels. These brown birds lack the ear tufts that mark some of their owl counterparts, but their rounded heads, yellow eyes and white throats make them easy to identify. 

Sadly, burrowing owl habitats in Arizona have dwindled in recent years amid residential and commercial development in what once were agricultural areas. Luckily, the curious birds can still be spotted alongcanals and roadsides across the state, particularly near Casa Grande and Gila Bend, on the Gila River Indian Community and in Maricopa.