New Owl or Same?

Credit goes to Bob H., a biologist visiting from Southern California, for spotting a Burrowing Owl yesterday, Monday, in a different location than the owl I photographed last Wednesday, October 9.  Bob shared where and when he saw it, and this morning, after much searching, I also spotted it and set up my camera.

The location is on the rocks next to the water on the north side of the park, about 120 yards west of the fenced Burrowing Owl area, or about three times as far from that area as the position of the October 9 owl.  I had walked by this location yesterday about an hour before Bob and his friend Jutta saw it, but I completely missed it.  Now my question is:  is this October 16 owl the same as the owl from last Wednesday, October 9?  Or is it a new owl, so that we must raise the owl count to two?

October 9 Owl. Note bushy eyebrows.
October 16 Owl. Eyebrows much less developed.

Here below is a view of each owl, focusing on the eyebrows.  By extrapolating from the human experience, where the eyebrows tend to get bushier with age, I’m proposing that the earlier owl (October 9) is an older individual.  The October 16 owl’s eyebrows are considerably less developed, less bushy and voluminous.  The October 16 owl, if this line of reasoning is at all correct, is a younger individual.  This is not the first owl returning to roost at a different spot.  It is a different owl.  It is Owl No. 2.

What do you think?  I’m totally an amateur at owl forensics.  If you have a surefire method, please post it in the Comments below.

Above, right, is a video showing this owl for a solid half hour from about 9:00 a.m to 9:30.  For many, this will seem like the most boring video in the world — thirty minutes of one bird standing still.

But for true Burrowing Owl lovers, this will be fascinating.  You will see the almost constant swiveling of the bird’s head, as it reacts, or doesn’t react, to events in its environment.  It helps if you turn up the volume a bit so that you can hear the crunching of runner’s feet on the gravel and the voices of people talking as they walk by.  The bird only occasionally looks up as people pass by, not seven yards from its position.  When people pass by talking loudly, it closes its eyes and seems to nod off.

One airplane gets a quick look; another gets ignored.  A passing off-leash dog gets an alarmed reaction: the eyes go big, it puts down both feet, stretches as tall as it can  and looks ready to spread its wings and take off.  In most of the video it stands on its right foot; late in the film it switches feet.  There’s also scratching, a yawn, preening, and other action highlights for the dyed-in-the-wool Burrowing Owl fan.  Enjoy!

Also below, for people in a hurry, is a twenty-minute time-lapse sequence of the October 16 owl condensed to one minute. 

The return of the Burrowing Owls to Cesar Chavez Park, even if it turns out to be only for a brief visit, is cause for celebration.  The owls are a species of special concern whose population in California has been in long-term decline.  There was fear that last winter, when no owls were seen in Cesar Chavez Park at all, signaled the end of the road as far as their visit to this park is concerned.  We now know, early in the season, that the owls are not extinct.  They have not forgotten the park.  There’s reason to hope that they’ll grab one of the plentiful ground squirrel condos and make their home here for the winter season.



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