In the column “Since You Asked” in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here is a question from our September/October 2019 issue.
Q: I volunteer at a national wildlife refuge and always see Burrowing Owls standing outside their burrows during the day, then out hunting at night. When do they sleep and for how long? — Carolyn Vance, Los Alamitos, California
A: The times and places that birds sleep vary widely among different bird families and throughout the year. For example, many diurnal songbirds typically get most of their sleep at night, as you might expect. But if they are migratory species that fly each leg of their journeys overnight, they adjust their sleep schedule and are able to take multiple short naps throughout the day, often each less than 30 seconds.
Burrowing Owls, unlike many owl species that are largely nocturnal, are active both day and night. However, they do much of their hunting of large insects and small rodents at dawn and dusk. Studies have found that after the food-gathering episodes, Burrowing Owls seem to prefer to get most of their sleep just after sunrise or in the middle of the night.
Sometimes the owls will sleep near their burrows on a rock, low branch, fence, or even in clumps of vegetation during migration or in winter. However, they frequently sleep right next to their burrow entrance. Not only do Burrowing Owls have a nest burrow, but they usually also have roosting burrows used for shelter, especially outside the breeding season.