In and Out

Part of being a Burrowing Owl is to have a burrow, or some other hidey-hole, always nearby. The Second Owl — the one that usually perches in plain view in the central circle of the seasonal Burrowing Owl Sanctuary — seemed to be absent the other morning. No sign of it in its usual spot nor in the surrounding area. Several Ground Squirrels, but no owl. So I pointed the camera at the owl’s usual spot and let the video run. Seven minutes later — minutes I’ve edited out of the YouTube video above — the bird poked its head out of its burrow and looked around. What it saw didn’t make it totally happy and it went back undercover. Forty-five seconds later it came out again, and this time it stayed. A burrow is cramped quarters, so a long leg stretch really felt good.

Park visitors who learn that two owls live in the park this winter often ask whether they’re a pair. We don’t know what happens at night, but all indications in daytime are that they’re not related or maybe even acquainted. These two have quite different preferences and personalities. Second Owl perches in plain view of an endless parade of humans, some in pickup trucks, and displays no stress or even interest. First Owl, by contrast, perches out of sight and takes refuge in crevices among the big shoreline rocks. Bird scientists have long noted this variation in behaviors. Owls hatched and raised in remote wilderness may flee at the first sight of a human. Others live and feel at home in cities. For example, Burrowing Owls are a tourist attraction in the city of Cape Coral, Florida, and they are at home in a number of cities in South America. Summarizing other studies, two Brazilian scientists write, “the Burrowing Owl is a common species in cities and tolerant to anthropic environments.” So, it’s very likely that the two owls in the park this winter inhabit opposite ends of this range of behaviors. First Owl is a country owl, probably accustomed to rural environments where humans are rarely seen up close. Second Owl is a city bird.

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