The Tale Behind the Cute Burrowing Owls That Went Viral During the Super Bowl

Photos of the owls went viral with the hashtag during the Super Bowl.

— -- A photo of baby burrowing owls with excited expressions is stealing the hearts of social media users just as excited to see them. The photo went viral through the hashtag #Superb_Owl after wildlife refuge specialist Katie McVey posted the photo during the Super Bowl.

The photos are actually a few years old from when McVey was doing graduate research at Boise State University with the Raptor Biology Program, according to a statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Burrowing owls are considered a species of concern in most U.S. states because their numbers are shrinking, the USFWS wrote, citing loss or alteration of habitat as the key reason.

"That's actually why the baby owls at top are in a 5-gallon bucket," the USFWS said. The organization added the colorful bands on the owls in the photo will help researchers identify the birds when they fly away.

Burrowing owls are unique from many other owls in that they live in tunnels and hiss when threatened, according to the USFWS.