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The Burrowing Owl & the Laughing Owl

The Burrowing Owl

The burrowing owl is considered to be a species of special concern in the United States. This tiny owl is found in open, dry grasslands, deserts, plains, and prairies. They may also inhabit areas of land that have been modified by humans. Burrowing owls can sometimes be found in golf courses, cemeteries, airports, and vacant lots within residential areas. Although they can be found in a few different habitats, they have specific requirements for the habitat that they live in. In order for burrowing owls to successfully hunt and breed, they must have a large open area where the terrain is gently rolling or flat. The most critical feature that the owls require is the abundance of active small mammal burrows in the habitat.

The burrowing owl is well adapted to the severe weather of habitats like the desert. Studies have shown that the owl can live in habitats where the daily temperature exceeds its own body temperature. The burrowing owl is able to dissipate all excess body heat by a panting process called gular flutter. The owls have also been found to have feathers that are slightly different depending on the season of the year. The feathers that the owls grow during the winter are better able to absorb the heat of the sun. Despite the owl's ability to share habitat with humans and live in even the harshest environments, the species is declining all over the United States.

Researchers believe that the biggest threats to the burrowing owls are the loss of habitat, reduced burrow availability due to the eradication of burrowing mammals, and pesticides. Researchers state that to stop the decline of the burrowing owl, humans will have to address these threats to the species.

The Laughing Owl — Extinct

The laughing owl was the first documented modern owl to become extinct. The laughing owl was found in New Zealand and received its name from the sound of its call, a descending scale of notes. New Zealanders thought that the owl sounded as though it was laughing.

According to naturalists, the owl lived and hunted in open country. The owls nested in the fissures in rock outcrops or even in caves. The entrances to their nests were extremely small. They lined their nests with dried grass and finely powdered rock or dirt. Breeding in September, they fed their young worms, beetles, lizards, and native rats.

Almost as soon as the owl was discovered in the mid-1800s, it began to decline. Naturalists believed that part of the owl's difficulties was the decline of the native Maori rat. However, the main cause of the owl's decline is thought to be animals that were introduced to the island. Ferrets and weasels were brought to New Zealand to control another species that had been introduced, the rabbit. The ferrets' and weasels' introduction had unforeseen consequences since the predators killed not only rabbits but many other species as well. The laughing owl was a small bird with limited flight and made easy prey for the introduced predators.

The last record of the laughing owl was in 1914. The last specimen was found dead by a woman in New Zealand. Rumors persist of occasional sightings of the owl, but none have ever been confirmed.

Source: Endangered Animals & Habitats: Owls, Lucent Overview Series. Lucent Book. 2003.

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