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Look for long-legged, burrowing owls in fields
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Outdoors just for kids

Look for long-legged, burrowing owls in fields

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Burrowing, not borrowing, owl

If you see a small owl with long legs, white eyebrows and large yellow eyes standing in a field or sitting on a fence post, it may be a burrowing owl.

They get their name from living in burrows, holes in the ground made by other animals like prairie dogs and badgers. Inside the holes they build nests — sometimes up to 10 feet underground — where they will lay six to seven eggs.

While many other owls do their hunting at night, burrowing owls are out during the night and day. That’s when they are hunting small animals like mice, birds, frogs or insects to eat.

In Montana, burrowing owls are found just about everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, but only during the summer. By fitting captured owls with tiny tracking devices, scientist have learned many of the owls fly south — some as many as 2,000 miles — to spend the winter.

Last year wildlife researchers in Wyoming fitted 12 burrowing owls with small backpacks to see where they flew to spend the winter. Six of them traveled to Mexico. Along the way they stopped in Arizona, Colorado and Texas. The small birds have been known to fly very high to go over the Rocky Mountains during their trips, sometimes climbing more than 10,000 feet.

The owls are considered a “species of greatest conservation need” in Wyoming and as a species of concern in Montana. In Canada the owls are an endangered species because there are so few of them and the places they used to live have been turned into farmland or towns.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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