Pipits in Dogland

(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)

I had checked the Burrowing Owl area at 7:30 am Tuesday morning a week ago and struck out. I thought maybe the owl was still foraging for its breakfast and would settle in one of its habitual perches a bit later, so I circled the park and then cut back through the Off-Leash Dog area toward the owl preserve. There, in the vague border between the Off-Leash Area and the normal park, near the Flare Station, I saw an American Pipit foraging in the grass. Soon it was joined by a second, and shortly by more of them, making a little flock of six. They were all working hard in the grass and the weeds, paying particular attention to the Bristly Oxtongue weeds that are in flower now (when aren’t they?). The birds’ thin, pointy beaks took countless tiny insects, probably aphids or the like, from this plant. This would be a great bird to have in a garden where you have an aphid problem.

Twice as I watched, loose dogs romped across the meadow where the birds foraged, and flushed them. One dog had a try at chasing them but soon had to give up. When the dogs ran elsewhere, the birds returned to their work. As I filmed, one small dog behind me barked at me incessantly. Its owner got it under control and apologized.

The Pipits are one among several species of ground-dwelling birds that live in the park. Western Meadowlarks and Savannah Sparrows are two others that come to mind immediately. (And the Burrowing Owl, of course.) I wonder whether Parks management has struck a proper balance between the interests of dog owners and the interests of birds. There is no fence around the 17-acre Off-Leash Area. As a result, a great many dog owners treat the whole 90-acre park as if it were a second Point Isabel. In the large meadows south, east, and west of the Off-Leash Area, dogs ought to be on leash at all times, but owners commonly let them run loose. As a result, ground-dwelling birds have no safe space in those meadows where they can forage and, come spring, think of nesting. There are federal and state laws that protect these bird species from harassment. It would be great if the dog owner’s group were to take the initiative to have their members and friends obey the leash law in the park. If that does not happen, will it be necessary to sue the City to protect these birds?

Burrowing Owl Update

This cold and gray Boxing Day morning (Monday Dec. 26), the Burrowing Owl was back in view, residing in Perch B, where park visitors could see it from the paved perimeter trail. The bird seemed completely alert, pivoting its head left and right to scope things of interest that only an owl with its exceedingly sharp eye and ear could perceive. During the 22 minutes that my camera recorded, the bird remained in the same position and saw no reason to duck for cover. Here is a one-minute sample:

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Dec. 26 2022
“Second Owl” Feb 3 2022, last day seen

Several park visitors have asked me over the past weeks whether the other owl, the one that perched on the ground near the big flat rock, had come back or was going to come back. We called that one the “Second Owl,” because it was spotted after the owl that perched on the rocks. But in the hearts of park visitors, the Second Owl held the first position. The spot where it sat in plain and open view lay hardly fifteen feet from the “art” fence. This owl developed a fan club in the hundreds. But there was a price to pay for its exposed position. On February 3, we saw this owl acting strangely, hiding behind the big rock, and the video showed that the bird was dragging its left wing. See “Owl Hurt,” Feb 7 2022. We did not see how the bird got this injury, but it’s consistent with a dog attack. A raptor attack would have left a bloody mess. Most likely a dog got over or through the “art” fence, got a piece of the owl, then the owl furiously struggled and got loose, but with a broken wing. Efforts were made the next day to secure the owl and take it to one of the local wild bird hospitals, but the owl could not be found, and it was not seen again. Bottom line, if by some miracle the bird survived, it’s very unlikely to come back here. Until the “art” fence is replaced with a meaningful and effective boundary to protect the owl area, owls that choose to perch on the ground there are risking their lives. Owls that perch on the rocky embankment on the east shore of the Owl Sanctuary, as did the First Owl of last winter and the only owl of this winter, cannot be seen so easily but have a better chance of survival here.

As I was standing near the camera filming the owl, a young man recently from Colombia stopped to chat. He told me that these owls are often seen in the city in parks and public squares, much like pigeons here. His remark is consistent with research reports that follow the owls in South America, where they may thrive better in cities than in wilderness. Burrowing Owls are also common in some cities in Florida. Would it make sense to bring some of these eastern and South American birds up here to counter the steep decline of our local owl population?

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One thought on “Pipits in Dogland

  • is this a post from last year right? Cause I haven’t heard about a second owl this year…did i miss something?

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