The burrowing owl lives underground in tunnels built by others, and is called athene, for the goddess whose draped shoulder they often grace, and cunicularia, for miner, for those who tunnel beneath the earth. They mimic the clatter of the rattlesnake to deter visitors both curious and predatory. I imagine crouching to pass this message through my own mailslot, when a stranger arrives to my porch with opinion polls or take-out menus. This owl and I recently considered each other through the glass of an aviary tank. She, denied her invisibility, and me, overheating in a clouded greenhouse dome.
In Brazil the burrowing owl savors the delicate vesper mouse, in Mexico the prickly pear. In Florida they collect cow dung and place it near the front entrance, so they needn't leave home to enjoy the food-beetles that soon arrive of their own accord. They sometimes sprint down quarry on their unusually long legs, which delights me, this tiny owl doing the unexpected, like an elephant from the news who carries always a feather, or a rabbit paddling over the narrow tongue of marsh behind our rental home.
If you'd like the owls to live somewhere other than where they do, best is to let them think it was their own idea to go. Create a handsome new spot and then, once they have noticed this finer option and before they begin their yearly family, cover their home's entrance with a one-way flap so they may step out freely, but cannot return. A few cool nights later, they'll have moved house. It all seems very wise, this gracious persuasion and this acceptance of proffered change. And the owl has come to stand for wisdom, maybe for Athena's ability to see all, even at night, though both she and the owl tend nonetheless toward sudden carnage.
Of two hundred kinds of owl only sixteen burrow, one more than three hands full. Each hardly bigger than a robin, whose name is turdus, which is a shame, for them. About the burrower there is nothing to regret, comical prairie warrior, families snug in the loam.
Sarah Dunphy-Lelli writes: I have been teaching psychology at a liberal arts college for 14 years, working with undergraduates (and preschool-aged children, in my research). My academic writing has appeared in journals including the Journal of Cognition and Development, Folia Primatologica and Scientific American; my creative writing appears or will appear in Plume, Pinyon Review, The Common online and Dogwood.