Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

When Burrowing Owls make time to sleep

Burrowing Owls
Burrowing Owls sleep outside their burrow on Marco Island, Florida. Photo by SunflowerMomma/Shutterstock

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.


Read our newsletter!

Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive news, photos of birds, attracting and ID tips, and more delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up for Free
Julie Craves

Julie Craves

Julie Craves is an ecologist and the retired director of the Rouge River Bird Observatory in Dearborn, Michigan. She answers readers’ questions about birds in her column “Since You Asked” in every issue of BirdWatching. A tireless researcher and bird bander with a keen interest in the stopover ecology of migrant birds, she is also a personable writer with a gift for making everything she writes readable and entertaining. Her first article in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching), “Forest Fire-tail,” a profile of the American Redstart, appeared in June 1994. Send a question to Julie. Read her blog at

Julie Craves on social media