Yes, there are burrowing owls living with the prairie dogs in Albuquerque.
The owls nest in underground burrows, hence their name. They use burrows created by other burrowing animals such as ground squirrels or prairie dogs. If burrows are unavailable and the soil is not hard or rocky, the owls may excavate their own. Burrowing owls will also nest in underground man-made structures that have easy access to the surface. They take over prairie dog burrows and live as neighbors.
The owls will eat baby or dead prairie dogs but they generally eat mice, insects, fruits and seeds. Unlike other owls they are general out during the day hunting at dawn and dusk.
The owls make a wide range of sounds including the who who call, clucks, chattering, and screams. Perhaps most interesting is when alarmed they frequently make a hissing call that sounds like a rattlesnake.
Burrowing owls are year-round residents in some areas and migrate south during the winter months, in others. They usually return to the same areas, often to the same burrow. Urban development is steadily reducing their habitat and often when they return from migration they find their ancestral homes gone.
These small owls prefer undisturbed areas. Too much activity prevents successful hunting and they will move to a more remote area if disturbed. Their nesting season begins in the early spring. The female will lay around 8-12 eggs over a two-week period. The eggs hatch in about three weeks and the chicks are able to make short flights after four weeks. The parents will continue to feed the chicks for up to three months after hatching. Usually only about half of the chicks survive.
They are a federally protected migratory bird with fines up to $10,000 for intentionally destroying them. Developers must not disturb them or must make provisions to relocate them if they are present in planned work areas. Unfortunately their nests are frequently overlooked or ignored. The males may fly away when danger threatens, but the females and young will hide in the burrows. They will be destroyed if the equipment operator is not aware of their presence and plows them under. Any field with prairie dogs or other burrowing animals should be carefully checked before the start of construction. The burrows containing owls frequently have a “white-wash” of waste at the entrance to the burrow, while the prairie dog burrows will have their scat nearby. Provisions should be made to relocate any resident prairie dogs or owls. If you see owls that might be in danger, please call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department at 505-248-6282
Even though they are a protected species, they are in serious trouble because of habitat loss and control methods for prairie dogs. When the prairie dogs are poisoned, the owls also die. Most of Albuquerque’s owls are gone. The owls tend to seek other nesting areas because the parklands and easement areas in Albuquerque are too busy and noisy. The few open fields left are often slated for development and are denuded of forage and vegetation by clean up crews leaving little or nothing that is edible for the prairie dogs and owls.