Owl Settling In?

Burrowing Owl sleeping with eye half open

The owl first seen October 21, and again on October 23, was back in the same spot this morning, October 24.  This is the longest lasting visit of any of the Burrowing Owls seen at Cesar Chavez Park this year, and raises the hope that this owl (Number Four) might take up residence for the winter season.

The amount of owl pee and poop on the stone where it stood this morning suggests that the bird considers this rock a home base of sorts.  It almost certainly has been finding things to eat.  The spot it has chosen is well shielded laterally by thick fennel from the paved perimeter pathway where people, bikes, dogs, and park trucks pass by.  The vegetation also provides some cover overhead from the land side.  White-tailed Kites, Northern Harriers, Cooper’s Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks all operate in the park from time to time, but rarely venture over water.

This owl was so well camouflaged that I almost flushed it.  I approached the stone where I had seen it yesterday from a narrow path that fisherpeople had wedged through the fennel just back of the rocks.  I saw the owl’s stone about ten yards away and thought the owl was not there.  I had last seen the bird standing up there, and nothing was standing.  The rock looked empty.  I took three steps closer, and only then saw that the mottled pattern on the stone was the bird, hunkered down.  It had me focused with both eyes wide open.  Many other birds would have taken flight.  Not this owl.  It watched me set up my tripod and fiddle with the camera buttons without further alarm.  After thirty seconds or so, it turned away and paid me no further attention.  Even when a call came in on my cellphone (I’d forgotten to silence it!) the owl ignored me.   The video below, a short zoom, shows how well the owl blends in with its surroundings even at fairly close range.

At one point, the owl stood up on one leg, faced south, half closed its visible eye, and froze.  Apart from blinking slowly about once a minute, it remained immobile in this position for a solid six minutes.  See photo, above.  I have video of five of those minutes.  It recalls some of Andy Warhol’s famous films where nothing happens.  I’ve not seen this behavior before.  I’m guessing that the owl was actually sleeping, but keeping an eye half open just in case.  I’m not posting that video, but if anyone wants to see it, contact me.  After that period of immobility, the bird resumed an alert condition, swiveling its head this way and that, as usual.

P.S.  Congratulations to Mark and his wife, long time park walkers, who managed to spot this owl from the paved walkway.  Good eye!

The owl on full alert when I blindly approached the stone where it squatted
The owl’s foot, surrounded by evidence that the bird has been in this spot for some time
The owl stood immobile in this position for more than six minutes, only blinking the eye a few times



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