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Wise Owls

On this A Moment of Science, we discuss some of the burrowing owl's wisest moves.

Western burrowing owls are a protected species in the United States.

A wise old owl lived in an oak. The more he saw the less he spoke. The less he spoke the more he heard.

While there aren’t any obvious owl tendencies that suggest they’re wise, there is one type of owl that appear to be very smart. Western burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) use dung as a tool to lure dung beetle prey.

These owls surround their nests with mammal dung in order to lure dung beetles into their hungry mouths. Scientists tested whether the owls could be using the dung for other purposes, such as masking the scent of their nests, but the presence of dung offered no significant protection from predators.

Mammal dung isn’t the only decoration they use for their burrows. Scientists have found burrowing owl homes with bottle caps and other shiny objects, as well as other things taken from human trash around them. Some researchers think these aren’t just ways of attracting insects, but also to signal to other burrow owls that these nests are occupied.

Other wise things these burrowing owls do? They take over the burrows other animals, such as squirrels, have already made (Although interestingly, burrowing owls found in the Caribbean and Florida will create their own burrows). They have also adapted, unlike most other species of owls, to hunt not just at night, but when their prey is available.

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