Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Burrowing Owl - Athene cunicularia
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General Comments This owl species is completely different from any other owl in the New World. It is a terrestrial species that nests in burrows, as the name states; all others are either arboreal or live in marshes or grasslands (and nest on the ground). It has a split range in North America, with one population nesting across much of the western half of the continent and the other nesting in peninsular Florida. Though the Florida population is non-migratory, the western population is strongly migratory, with much of the population leaving the northern half of the range in winter. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are a few records for the state. Of the five reports so far, the three from the coast have all been accepted by the NC BRC as wild birds; however, the two inland records have been considered by the NC BRC to be of Questionable Origin, suggesting that they may have ridden into the state on trucks or other large vehicles.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SA
Global Rank G4
Coastal Plain Casual along the immediate coast; no records from farther inland. One was seen at the Salvo campground (Dare) on 14 Nov 1966, and it was collected there on 14 Feb 1967 [Chat 38:41 link]. The second accepted record was of one seen at Brant Island next to Fort Macon SP (Carteret), from 13 Jun - 3 Sep 1972 [Chat 38:41 link]. The third record was one seen and photographed at Masonboro Island (New Hanover), 4-6 Nov 2015* [Chat 80:15 link], [Chat 80:40-41 link]; this bird was again seen from 27 Feb - 11 Mar 2016 [Chat 80:87 link].
Piedmont No records accepted as wild/valid. One was found dead in Charlotte (Mecklenburg) on 25 Oct 2005 [Chat 70:29 link]. The Chat Briefs for the Files editor stated: "One wonders if this was the same bird [as the Asheville bird], and just how are these owls getting up into the Carolinas -- naturally or assisted by man?" [Chat 70:29 link].
Mountains No records accepted as wild/valid. One was seen and photographed in late May 2005 at the edge of a parking lot in downtown Asheville (Buncombe), a seemingly odd place and time for such a species; and the NC BRC considered the bird a likely escape, perhaps inadvertently carried to the site on a truck [Chat 70:8-13 link].
Finding Tips
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Attribution LeGrand[2018-02-01], LeGrand[2016-09-29], LeGrand[2016-06-02]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.