The Burrowing Owl that arrived on October 30 was still here this morning, and may be settling in for the season. We have seen situations where owls arrive and stay just a few days, as documented in the Owls Came Back movie. But this bird has chosen for its perch a spot just inches away from the perch of one of the two owls that settled here last winter. Is it the same owl? I am waiting for better light and luck to get a full frontal picture of the bird to compare with the “First Owl” of last winter. In any case, the fact that the owl has chosen this spot and is still here gives hope that it plans to spend the season with us.
As a refresher for park visitors who missed the owls of last year, Burrowing Owls here are migrants. They fly in from breeding areas somewhere north and perhaps east. The only owl that came here with a band on its leg came from Idaho. That was many years ago. These owls could be from Alaska or points south or from Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska — areas with wide open spaces where prairie dogs maintain colonies, and where the weather is now too cold for comfort. (The owls use prairie dog burrows for their nests.) They fly to the milder climate here for the winter. This is their “Florida.” While here, they are not breeding or nesting. They are solitary. They are unique among owls in that they perch on the ground and remain awake and active in daylight. Other owls, as a rule, perch in trees and hide during the day, becoming active at night. Our Western Burrowing Owls don’t dig their own burrows. They may borrow the burrows that ground squirrels made, using them for shelter in case of danger. Some, such as the owl above, prefer to perch on rock embankments that contain numerous cracks and cavities where the birds can take refuge for safety. The owls mostly eat bugs such as caterpillars and beetles, but will take very small mammals such as voles and field mice if available. If they spend the winter season, they will generally leave around the middle of March.
If the owl is still here this weekend, and is within view, I plan to set up a telephoto lens with a field screen so that park visitors, including kids, can get a live look.