Owl Persists

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)

The Burrowing Owl seen and photographed in the Nature Area on the north side of the park since the second week of November is still in residence as of December 1. Still difficult to see most of the time, but still there. One park visitor saw it flying this morning shortly before 8 a.m. while the area was still blanketed in fog.

If the bird stands up tall, you can see it with the naked eye, but it rarely does that. Its average posture is as you see it in the photo above. If it ducks its head, it’s out of sight. There is undoubtedly a ground squirrel burrow within inches of where it’s perching, so that if the bird feels seriously threatened it can dive for shelter.

Several park visitors have asked whether it’s a grownup, whether it’s nesting, and so forth. The answer in brief is yes, it’s an adult bird. They’re only about 8 to 10 inches tall, although they can stretch their feet and necks to be taller. Males and females look alike. They breed and nest in the spring and summer up north somewhere, we can’t tell where, but probably Oregon, Washington, Canada, or even Alaska. They come south in the winter; this is their “Florida.” In their breeding territory they tend to be social and form colonies, but when wintering they tend to be solitary. They are the only owls that normally live on the ground, not up in trees. They are also unusual for keeping awake during the day. They are most active at dusk and dawn. They hunt mostly by walking and with short flights. They eat mostly bugs such as caterpillars, worms, beetles and very small mammals. Despite their grounded habits, they are excellent fliers. The owls that visit Cesar Chavez Park and stay for the winter usually migrate back north around the middle of March. If you want to learn a bit more and see them in action, you might like my The Owls Came Back video (25 minutes long).

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