Answered by Colleen Moulton – Wildlife Diversity Biologist for Idaho Dept. of Fish & Game
There are fourteen species that call Idaho home at one time of the year or another. As our only species of owl that nests underground, burrowing owls start moving into the area in April, looking for a good burrow to call home for the breeding season. They are in full nesting mode during the month of May, and you’ll typically see the male keeping watch near the mouth of the burrow or on a nearby post. By June it becomes fairly obvious who the male is, and who the female is, by their coloring. The feathers on the male, who spends all his time outside the burrow, become bleached in the sun. He’ll appear quite light in color. The female on the other hand, who spends almost all of her time down in the burrow incubating eggs and brooding young chicks, will start looking very dark by comparison.
But back to answer your question about when it’s a good time to see young owls! Nestlings will start hatching in early Jun, and they will begin showing themselves at the mouth of the burrow about two weeks later. But they become very noticeable, and entertaining to watch, when they start testing out those new flight feathers in late June, at about 3 weeks of age. They will be able to fly shortly thereafter and will usually stick around for a few more weeks before everyone starts migrating south for the winter. So, plan to start looking for these little owlets during the second week of June and be sure to keep coming back for a few weeks to catch all their antics!
Because they spend all their time down in the burrow with the prey mom and dad bring home, they are hard to observe and are usually covered in fleas! Such cool little birds.
The Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) weighs in at only 5–8.5 oz. (147–240 gr), stands a surprising 7.5–11.0 in (19–28 cm) tall, and has a 20–24 inch (51–61 cm) wingspan. They usually have distinctive white eyebrows. Their wings are a deeper brown with lighter spotting, but their chest can be plain light tan with Burrowing Owls are mostly found in the western U.S., down through Mexico and Central America. Look for them in open grasslands and deserts.
Unlike most other owl species that spend their time in trees, Burrowing Owls live underground! They either excavate their homes themselves or quite frequently, take over underground shelters from squirrels or prairie dogs. These underground dens provide a lot of space to gather food. They’ve been known to have hundreds of mice in storage in case of a food shortage!