Burrowing Owls Along A Rural Road

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I post a lot of images of Burrowing Owls on this blog and today I’m going to post a few more.  Burrowing Owls are highly accessible and usually fairly easy to photograph — if one knows where to look for them.  At this point, I’ve driven certain rural roads in southern Arizona so often that I’ve memorized several locations where these little owls have their burrows and so, I can plan where and when to photograph them.

These images were made along a quarter-mile stretch of dirt farm road.  A friend and I went out there last Sunday, hoping to find other species to photograph.  Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate — we faced several hours of gloomy, leaden skies — and neither did the wildlife.  In a pinch there are always Burrowing Owls, and so that’s what we photographed for the most part.

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The three individuals depicted here were all standing alongside the road, a few yards apart, and on different sides.  It’s not safe to assume that they are living independently, however.  Burrowing Owls tend to make communal burrows that might house four or five individuals — a male, a female, and a couple of youngsters — so these birds may very well be connected.

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The first bird shown is an adult bird.  It’s virtually impossible to judge the sex of Burrowing Owls by their plumage, so I don’t know whether it is a female or a male.  By contrast, the second bird looks to me like  juvenile or an immature owl.  Notice that its head and breast are much paler than the adult’s head and breast.

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Here’s a third owl and this one is definitely an adult.

Here’s a good question: why do these birds so often inhabit burrows adjacent to farm roads?  Man may definitely be the cause of that in two ways.  First, we eliminated many of these owls’ natural homesites when we exterminated prairie dogs.  Historically, Burrowing Owls inhabited prairie dog burrows.  When the prairie dogs were exterminated their burrows fell into disuse and eventually collapsed, leaving the owls homeless.  Second, humans inadvertently created a pretty nice habitat for burrowing owls when they installed concrete-lined irrigation canals alongside the farm roads.  Erosion causes open pockets to form under the canals’ concrete liners and many owls take advantage of these pockets and move in.

Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 400DO+1.4X Extender, camera and lens supported on truck window sill, aperture priority setting.  The first photo shot at ISO 1600, f5.6 @ 1/500.  The second and third photos shot at ISO 1000, f5.6 @ 1/1000 (second photo), 1/2000 (third photo).

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