Burrowing Owls Practice their Nesting Skills at the Brandywine Zoo

By Robin Sutker, Assistant Curator at Brandywine Zoo


Wednesday, August 4, was International Owl Awareness Day, and the Zoo celebrated their resident Strigiformes (A.K.A. owls), the Burrowing Owls! Burrowing owls are one of the few owl species that are active during the day and actively dig tunnels to live in. The species is native to Central and North America, including parts of the Caribbean. Like other owl species, their diet consists of small lizards, birds, and mammals. Unlike most other owls, however, burrowing owls tend to live in large, single species, social groups called parliaments. While they may seem to have a resting grumpy face, they are quite social with each other!

Meet Burrowing Owls Dori & Gimli

Dori (the female owl with small pupils) and Gimli (the male owl) live together year-round at the Brandywine Zoo. They are a recommended breeding pair by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums burrowing owl Species Survival Plan® (SSP). They began exhibiting nesting behaviors in April and laid one clutch of four eggs in early May, but none survived to hatching age. While disappointing, this is an occurrence that appears in wild clutches too, and serves as a major milestone for the pair. Dori had laid eggs in the past, but all were broken by the pair early on during nesting season.

Breaking eggs is a natural behavior across all egg-laying species that can happen for a variety of reasons (including inexperienced parents), making confirmation of viable eggs difficult. As an active member of the burrowing owl SSP, the Brandywine Zoo is guided by their recommendations and current husbandry practices for the species. Right now, it is more important for Dori and Gimli to learn how to be parents. The Brandywine Zoo curators decided to monitor the nest but allow the owls to continue working on their parenting skills this year. The *very* exciting news for this year’s breeding season is that one of the recovered, but damaged eggs was near hatching age, indicating that the pair have made progress in their “how-to-nest” education! The Zoo is looking forward to the next breeding season, which will begin in the spring of 2022.


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