Still Here

Two Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia)

At sunrise Thursday, both of the Burrowing Owls first spotted on Tuesday were still present and in the same locations. The first owl (first half of video above) had moved a few inches deeper under the cover of the dried California Poppy bush. In this location, the owl is visible only from the Open Circle Viewpoint. At 8 a.m., even though the sun had risen, this owl still seemed half asleep, although it responded quickly to sounds in its vicinity. It looked very calm and relaxed. A few minutes later, the second owl (second half of video above) in plain view on the surface of the seasonal Burrowing Owl Preserve, seemed to have risen a bit higher in its shallow pit. It was wide awake, and it followed passing and dwelling park visitors with its eyes, but gave no sign of alarm.

Trifold bruchure

Park visitors have numerous questions when they stop to view the owls. I’ve prepared a trifold brochure that tries to answer the most commonly asked questions. You can download it here. It’s meant to be folded like in the photo below. I’ve ordered a plastic box to hold them that can be put up on the fence so that people can help themselves.

Photographer David Hauer shared with me this hilarious video where the birds take offense at a “hidden” camera outside their burrow that tracks their movements. They deal with it in short order. Check it out — very worth watching. Thank you, David.

Another myth tumbles: On Oct. 21, Doug Bell and Shawn Smallwood spoke via Zoom to a Golden Gate Audubon audience on the topic of “Bringing Back the Burrowing Owl.” Smallwood is a UC Davis PhD in Ecology who has studied birds at the wind turbine areas in Altamont Pass for more than 20 years. In his talk he showed how he mapped each Burrowing Owl nest in the area and visited them frequently in all seasons. The idea that Burrowing Owls don’t nest in tall grass is a myth, he said. I’ve visited their nests when the grass was over my head in springtime. We think they don’t breed there because we can’t see them. But if we know where to look we can find them there.

The data that Smallwood and Bell collected also underlined the previously known interdependence between Burrowing Owls and Ground Squirrels. Among other services the birds and squirrels exchange, the owls help the squirrels chase away and sometimes kill rattlesnakes. Where ranchers eradicate the squirrels, the owls soon also disappear. It was a very educational talk with a heavy load of research data. Unfortunately it was not recorded because the speakers were presenting a draft of a scholarly paper not yet reviewed for publication.

I measured the line of sight distance from the Open Circle Viewpoint to the spot where the First Owl perches, using Google Earth’s measuring tool. It comes out to 105 yards more or less. My earlier eyeball estimate of 75 yards was too short.

Park visitor and Berkeley Partners for Parks board member Brad Stewart has carved a pumpkin in honor of owls, using the stem as part of the design. Here it is, on the right.

First owl with eyes closed momentarily
Second owl wide awake

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2 thoughts on “Still Here

  • Wendy, As indicated in the caption, the photo caught a “momentary blink”, i.e., the owl was not grabbing a nap (though they can, even doing it, apparently, with one eye open and one closed). And they do remain close to burrows / crevices to where they can quickly retreat if/when sensing a threat.

  • oh sweet, she looks sleepy! I wonder why the one would be out in the open? Why doesn’t it “burrow”? find a nice hole to duck in? They do seem so vulnerable…I wish them safety. thanks for the photos and videos and doing the brochure! You are a true ally to these little creatures!

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